Thursday, June 4, 2015

Ramez Naam's "Nexus"

Mini-review/rant of Ramez Naam's "Nexus" - the first book in a cyberpunk, transhuman, singularity, sci-fi trilogy. Naam has some amazing ideas about emerging technologies and the ends to which people would put them. He can also write great action and has a great sense of pacing (which is beginning to be sorely lacking in modern sci-fi). However, he can't write interesting or believable characters for shit. All of the characters are walking tropes with very little about them for the reader to get interested in. The hacker with the heart of gold, the guild-ridden veteran, the government agent with a Past, the heartless bureaucrat. The other problem with the book is more political in nature. Naam belongs to a peculiar subset of tech geek libertarians - the singularitarian techno-fetishit transhumanists (phewph, quite a mouthful), and he has an axe to grind with everyone who thinks technological progress should be controlled. Personally I consider myself an optimist when it comes to future technologies, but Naam presents technological progress as a stark Us (the good hackers, libertarians, "information wants to be free" types) vs. Them (the bad nasty government that inevitably turns authoritarian), and that dichotomy starts to get tiresome pretty quickly. It ignores the fact that most of the important inventions that make Naam's setting possible have been made thanks to overwhelming government sponsorship - not the plucky V.C. types like Musk or Anderseen or whoever. His worldview (at least as presented in the novel) is too dualistic and naive. I hope the second book will present a more nuanced look at the ramifications of technologies that emerge at the end of the first book, and not boil it down to "technology good, governments bad".