Crux, by Ramez Naam

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – August 27, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Six months have passed since the release of Nexus 5. The world is a different, more dangerous place.

In the United States, the terrorists – or freedom fighters – of the Post-Human Liberation Front use Nexus to turn men and women into human time bombs aimed at the President and his allies. In Washington DC, a government scientist, secretly addicted to Nexus, uncovers more than he wants to know about the forces behind the assassinations, and finds himself in a maze with no way out.

In Thailand, Samantha Cataranes has found peace and contentment with a group of children born with Nexus in their brains. But when forces threaten to tear her new family apart, Sam will stop at absolutely nothing to protect the ones she holds dear.

In Vietnam, Kade and Feng are on the run from bounty hunters seeking the price on Kade’s head, from the CIA, and from forces that want to use the back door Kade has built into Nexus 5. Kade knows he must stop the terrorists misusing Nexus before they ignite a global war between human and posthuman. But to do so, he’ll need to stay alive and ahead of his pursuers.

And in Shanghai, a posthuman child named Ling Shu will go to dangerous and explosive lengths to free her uploaded mother from the grip of Chinese authorities.

The first blows in the war between human and posthuman have been struck. The world will never be the same.

Thoughts: Starting shortly after the first novel in the series, Nexus, Crux throws readers back into the thick of things, following old characters and new, as worldwide Nexus use increases and so does the fight against it. Kade and Feng have been on the run for months, followed through Asia by government men who want Kade’s knowledge of Nexus. Sam is trying to protect the incredible children who were born with Nexus in them or who were exposed to it early on. Sam’s old mentor, Nakamura, is trying to understand what made Sam change allegiances. Su-yong Shu’s daughter Ling, more gifted with Nexus use than anyone realizes, seeks to recover her mother’s mind, which is trapped in digital backup and being mined for data. And the PLF, the Post-human Liberation Front, is committing acts of terrorism in the US to further their own agenda, which is far darker and more complex than anyone expected.

In other words, Crux is a complex and intelligent sci-fi thriller with incredible commentary on humanity, morality, and a dozen and one other controversies, combined into an incredible story that will never get old, never feel stale or obsolete. Both Nexus and Crux resonate so well because they tell a story that’s got the perfect blend of the familiar and the new, taking issues we’re starting to face today and ramping them up to the next level. They’re relatable, and disturbingly easy to see happening in the near future. This is made clearer at the end of the book, where Naam takes a few pages to talk a bit about the developing technology that inspired certain scenes. The seeds of these events have been planted, and the story is both a compelling and chilling vision of what may come.

It was interesting to watch characters develop in Crux, not just the major players from Nexus but also smaller characters who had larger roles here than they had before. Ling and Holzmann were the obvious two to focus on, and I was fascinated by the parts they played. Ling’s self-image and ideas, and the power she held despite being so young. Holzman’s uncovering of the PLF plot and his struggle with addiction. Add characters like these to an already well-developed cast from the previous novel, and you’ve got the winning combination of diverse viewpoints that allow the story to be told fully, and with all its complexities explored.

Something I’ve noticed each time I’ve read something Naam has written is that he has skill at presenting both sides of the argument, the pros and cons of each decision or potential decision, without making one seem like the obvious choice. Readers are meant to side with Kade, as he’s the primary protagonist, but we also thus get to see Kade struggle with the realities of playing vigilante, having the power to stop crime at the expense of removing personal freedom, which is the very thing he argued against in Nexus. Sam, who came to understand how Nexus could be used in amazing ways that outweighed potential misuse, who fought to protect gifted children born with Nexus, eventually purges it from her body because the tables turned again and the risks outweighed the benefits. Terrible things are done in the name of good, and good is never as black-and-white as it seems. Though perhaps it’s more accurate to say that there is no good in the story; merely people, with agendas, and the struggle to do what they think is right, no matter how misguided they may be. Naam has a way of presenting these viewpoints without over-the-top moralizing, while showing the good and the bad in every decision, and with very few exceptions, showing that even the people you want to fail can still be sympathetic characters with their own reasons for doing what they do. There are no easy answers.

Nor are you beaten about the head with the moral of “there are no easy answers,” as you’re reading. It’s all in the undercurrents, reading between the lines, and something that tends to hit you after you step away from the story, because the story itself is stringing you along and you’re eager to get to the next scene, the next chapter, and you don’t much care about analyzing moral code while you’re enjoying the thrillride.

Like Nexus before it, Crux is the kind of book that will stay on the shelves of fans for years to come. It appeals to intelligence while still being accessible, relatable, and it’s a great book for making people consider all sides of an argument. Speculative fiction at its finest, and a series that in no way should be passed over. The world of SFF would be poorer for a lack of Ramez Naam and his work.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

3 comments on “Crux, by Ramez Naam

  1. Naam does do the “on the one hand” “on the other hand” of the new technologies and social implications pretty well. I think he himself is much more of an optimist than his peers, but he does put that on a leash in his fiction.

  2. Pingback: May in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

  3. Pingback: Apex, by Ramez Naam | Bibliotropic

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