Apex, by Ramez Naam

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – May 5, 2015

Summary: Global unrest spreads as mass protests advance throughout the US and China, Nexus-upgraded riot police battle against upgraded protestors, and a once-dead scientist plans to take over the planet’s electronic systems. The world has never experienced turmoil of this type, on this scale.They call them the Apex – humanity’s replacement. They’re smarter, faster, better. And infinitely more dangerous.

Humanity is dying. Long live the Apex.

Thoughts:The US election is approaching, with public opinion swaying to favour a moderate newcomer over re-electing the current President, with his anti-augmentation policies, for a second term. The Posthuman Liberation Front is concentrating on how to spread Nexus to crowds and how to use it to fuel their agenda. An insane aspect of Su-Yong Shu has taken over Ling, trapping the little girl in her own mind while a twisted version of her mother commits acts of long-distance terrorism by forcibly dosing people with Nexus and making them act to her will. Seeking asylum in India, Kade and the Indian government negotiate terms of Kade’s assistance with a Nexus education program, which may lead to India pulling out of a near-global agreement to officially criminalize the use of Nexus and other human augmentations. The world is poised on the brink, with Nexus at its centre, and humanity, one way or the other, will be changed when it’s all over.

Like Nexus and Crux before it, Naam’s skill with storytelling is evident right from the get-go. You read the first few pages, and you fall right back into the story like you never left it, even if it’s been months since you read the previous books in the trilogy. It’s so vividly easy to picture what’s going on, the characters are all fascinating people in fascinating situations, and the subject matter and its controversies are more than enough to provide a high-stakes tension-filled atmosphere for the story to play out in.

This whole series is one that invites speculation and discussion. Indeed, I spent part of an evening talking with my roommate about the potential benefits something like Nexus could bring to people with autism, which is something that has been mentioned more than once through the books. Also education, and international cooperation, and all sorts of things. One in-book debate that I found particularly interesting was the issue of humans versus post-humans. Were augmented Nexus-connected humans still actually humans anymore, if their way of life and relation to each other had so drastically changed? One character likened the situation to Neanderthals versus modern humans, and how Neanderthals didn’t survive because they couldn’t adapt as well. Only now humans are in that position, with the possibility of having no place in the future, and their official response is to try desperately to hold back the tide. I thought that was interesting because in that comparison, people were tacitly admitting that yes, post-humans were better, but that humanity shouldn’t make way for that improvement.

Though that’s often been the case on official policies, I find. People clinging to tradition, with the notion that the tradition is what made them great for so long, forgetting that the tradition was very often born from revolution against an old tradition to begin with. I can’t help but wonder, in Naam’s idea of that post-human world, with so many minds connected like that, what the next big revolution might be, and whether people would react with the same old patterns.

I also found it painfully ironic that so many people’s opinions on Nexus changed after experiencing it. Especially Stockton. Though his experience with it was forced rather than voluntary, and could so easily have ended up as a sore spot that he fought even harder to stop the spread of, in the end his experiences led him to reverse a lot of his anti-Nexus policy. It wasn’t said explicitly whether that was done because he felt it was right or because he realised that any continued policy of, say, prosecuting those with Nexus in their brains would mean that he would now suffer. Possibly it was a bit of both. And while I applaud that kind of attitude shift, I thought it reflected well the tendency that people have to only become interested in a thing when it affects them personally. It’s not enough to legalize other people having a choice in a matter. It’s only an issue when you yourself, the policymaker, would benefit or suffer.

(Political bitterness toward a fictional character. You know a book has affected you when…)

And if the intelligent and thought-provoking material wasn’t enough, you can’t get away from tension action scenes in this book for longer than a chapter. Maybe 2. It comes hard and fast, between scenes with crowds in full riot to parachuting into an area that’s practically a mini war zone, it’s an incredible page-turner, and with cinematic clarity and pacing. It’s truly impressive to see the range that Naam has with storytelling, since he can do action just as well as political dialogue, or hell, even describing aspects of meditation. I’d be hard-pressed to find another book with such fantastic pacing.

There’s so much I want to say about Apex, but most of that would involve heavy spoilers, and this is a book that really deserves not to be spoiled. So much happens, both in the scope of individual character development and on a global scale, that talking in detail about any one thing would lead me to talking about how something else affects it, and it would just snowball until half the plot is ruined for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.

The best books are often the hardest to review, because it’s at those times that I just want to throw my usual attempts at objectivity out the window and reduce my review to, “Holy crap, you guys, you all need to be reading this series right now!” That’s Nexus, Crux, and Apex in a nutshell. It’s wonderfully intelligent, it speculates on amazing advances in technology that we’re already seeing the early stages of in the real world, and it’s all written by a master of the craft. If you’re a fan of science fiction that explores both technology and the social aspects of it, then this is, without a doubt, the series for you. It’s a phenomenal exploration of humanity, one that could pave the way for a new future in sci-fi.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

4 comments on “Apex, by Ramez Naam

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