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Our June discussion: Nexus by Ramez Naam

I'm sorry I'm a bit late in posting about our meeting on June 28th (I was out of the library for a few days).   We met on June 28th to discuss Nexus by Ramez Naam, and as always, had a very lively discussion.   I'll try to hit some of the highlights of what people had to say (with aliases for those who want them):

  • Rachel started by saying that she got to page 326 ... and then stopped.  For her, when the child Mai was killed, she got a little ticked off.   Furry said in response to this that she could tell the author had no hesitation in killing off his characters.
  • Menolly found the book a bit of a slow starter, and felt she didn't really relate well to the age group in the book or to the tech-savviness of it.  However, once she got into the rhythm of the book, it picked up the pace.   Glenn also said that the pace was a little slow, but he liked the film-esque pacing, with the slow buildup and then action.  
  • Speaking of the action in the book, a few readers had some comments just on that.   Most readers liked it, although Glenn said it was "everything in every direction.   Like a Transformers movie."
  • Burt Macklin, FBI listened to the audiobook and wound up enjoying it so much that he grabbed a copy of Crux (the sequel to Nexus) and was eagerly waiting for Apex (the third book).  aNON, had also listened to the audiobook, although he found it hard to follow and felt it didn't work well as an audiobook (mostly because he felt the pacing was off).
  • Terry was another reader who liked the book, and found the extra details about the author to be really interesting.  She said that after reading this book, she is interested in listening to interviews with the author, and also plans on looking up more information on some of the things he mentioned in this book.  
  • Other readers also found the book gave them a lot to think about.  Theresa mentioned she liked the scenes towards the end of the book, where people are thinking of the different uses and applications of Nexus.  We had some general discussion about how a drug like this could be used for good or bad purposes in a world like our own.  Moew than one reader mentioned how the drug could be used for terrible things, and also, how awful it could be to "hear" the awful things that some people could be thinking.   Ed said that this made him think, "This is going to be used by the people who overshare on Facebook."
  • Ed also mentioned that he completely understood the copy programming mentality of "We can solve anything!," but that in the story, it took a long time for the development of how things would actually evolve.  We had some general discussion about the origin of Nexus, and how it seemed like some of that was left intentionally vague.
  • Menolly found it interesting that the main characters of Wats and Samantha had come through a system and had an early career, and then Nexus changed their whole outlook.  The empathy of really being able to understand other people's points of view made them more humane.
  • Klaupaucius said that this book made him think of how in more domestic science fiction stories, the focus is more on people from our time in a situation.  He thought of Mr. Data (Star Trek: New Generation), who gives a different kind of focus to things.  Here, Klaupaucius felt that the author is understanding the possibility of a drug like Nexus, but it seems ahead of the other technology in the world.  Thus, the reader focuses on the idea rather than the technology.
  • Taking the discussion in another direction, Hola said that she found it really funny that not only do the programmers include a porn star program, but also a "Bruce Lee," and then actually thought both of these were good ideas.  She also found it really funny that the government men running things were so stupid (like assuming that the combination of Samantha's training and Nexus would work out well).  What she really liked in the book, and found revolutionary, was that the reader actually sees the technology develop over the course of the story.  She also really liked getting into the politics of everything.  This led Theresa to remark, "The war on science is going to be the war on drugs." 
  • Concering the telepathy aspect of Nexus, Furry remarked that she thought the way this was handled in the story was pretty cool.  To her, it seems like telepathy is usually somewhat medieval (like in the Darkover series) and here, this is near-future.  You drop the drug, and you're a telepath.
  • Furry did say that she found it problematic, however, that Samantha had a lot more upgrades than the Navy SEALS in the story.   This led to some general discussion of what it meant in the story if you accepted upgrades or augmentations, and the aspects of being transhuman.
  • On the topic of Samantha, we had some comments.  Theresa liked how we see a lot from Samantha's point of view, and that it's interesting to see her progression as a character. 
  • Klaupaucius mentioned an essay, Why the Future Doesn't Need Us, and then the responses that it generated.   For him, reading this book reminded him of this debate.   He also talked about how it was interesting to see how some characters had different attitudes about what being transhuman would mean.  Some readers said this reminded them a bit of the X-Men, and the contrasting viewpoints of Magneto and Professor X.
  • Derek said that he enjoyed the book overall, although he wondered if the author was using the story for his own views and exploration.  He found the story an interesting exposition into, "It's coming. Work out the ethics before you get there."   He also mentioned that he wondered, like Hola, about the government's men, and how they seemed to botch more than one operation.  For example, in the raid on the party, it felt like the argument was "supression is a bad idea," and then they just blow it from the get-go.  As Derek said, "You don't think this is going to turn into a cluster____?"  He then followed up by saying, "That raid really bugged me.  It seemed like a parade of stupid decisions."  And other readers agreed.   
  • Derek did go on, though, to say that he appreciated the Bruce Lee program, and how the nerd protagonist turns into "super fighty-guy,"... and then everyone demolishes him.  He also said that the technology of Nexus reminded him of a game he used to play called Plague, Inc. (click on that link to learn more about it), where it seemed like the best strategy was "really infectious with really innocuous symptoms.   And then, it turns all hard-core."    Here, in this book, it seemed pretty similar to him.
  • Burt Macklin, FBI said that the idea of Nexus being open-source reminded him of the recent Heartbleed virus.  He talked about how quickly it was created, modified and spread, and also how slow many vendors seemed to respond to it.  aNON mentioned that he found it amazing how perfectly the hardware worked in the story and wondered that more people's brains didn't burn out.
  • We had some general discussion about Nexus, and the use of it, as well as the supression of it.  Menolly said she felt like initially, the idea of supression was sympathetic, but that you can't stop people from asking questions because that's human nature.  She was another reader who found the politics in the story to be fascinating, and said it made her think about "How we protect ourselves at the same time as we explore the boundaries of what is possible."   Derek said he was intrigued by how, in this story, once you realize something can be done, that then you're faced with finding a good way to deal with it.

As I mentioned, I just try to hit some of the highlights of our discussions here on the blog.   However, I'm sure that after reading this, you can tell that people had a lot to say about the book.   We encourage people to continue the discussion, so please feel free to leave a comment!   And a big thank-you to everyone who attended our June meeting and made it a great discussion!!

Lastly, the group gave this book the codes: NFW, POL, ETH, NARC, ESP, HIT and FEM+ (a new code we made for this book) and the averaged-out rating was a 4.


I found author more even-handed on the full disclosure vs risk debate at the beginning becoming more one-sided as the book progressed. I also felt the characters became more cardboard as the story developed. In fact, I suspect that Feng, rather than dressed in a business suit, would more appropriately don a cape and a gem shaped patch with an “F” emblazoned on his chest. He certainly did show up at the most convenient times with just exactly the skills and weapons necessary.

Interestingly, the August, 2014 Scientific American Magazine has an article on “Man-made carbon-based molecules that can substitute for or extend the nature set of molecules that make up DNA.” (page 21) Though it may be tough to work into conversation, these molecules are designated as dSSICS and dNaM which can lead to creating “unnatural amino acids”. Hm-m-m-m.

This was a great discussion of a wonderful book. I loved this book. I read CRUX (the sequel) and it was also very amazing.

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