BOOK REVIEW: Crux by Ramez Naam

REVIEW SUMMARY: Frighteningly plausible cyberpunk.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Following the events of the first book, Kaden Lane is on the run with bounty hunters in hot pursuit. Sam, having gone rogue, has finally found inner peace in the presence of special children born with Nexus connection. The Post-Human Liberation Front has found a way to weaponize Nexus in a frightening way and the United States government is taking drastic steps to fight such emerging risks.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Expands on the foundation of the original in a big way; continued character development; lots of character diversity; super-cool tech; moral ambiguity; intense action; lays the groundwork for future entries without coming across as filler.
CONS: A lessened presence of the Buddhism I found so cool and interesting in the first novel.
BOTTOM LINE: A worthy sequel that reads like a mash-up of Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy, Naam’s cyberpunk thriller is even better than the original.

I loved Ramez Naam’s Nexus, an amazing science fiction novel that bombards the senses with espionage, philosophy, action, and a frighteningly plausible future. It’s a novel that got me considering the implications of trans/post-humanism in a way I never have before. Fortunately for me, I did not have to wait a second to get started on the sequel, Crux, because I missed reading Nexus at its 2012 release. I started into Crux with a level of apprehension I reserve for sequels of books that I love. Would Naam be able to deliver a novel as exceptional as the first or would he fail to rise to the challenge? I need not have worried, as Crux is every bit as compelling as its predecessor and then some. Nexus has all the right ingredients for a classic Hollywood blockbuster and audiences would be fortunate to be presented with such an intelligent thriller. Crux, on the other hand, goes too deep and too wide to be contained in a major motion picture. If Nexus is a blockbuster, Crux is a big budget spin-off television series that builds on all the things people loved about the original. I couldn’t help but compare Nexus to movies like The Matrix, Limitless, and The Terminator, as well as video games such as Deus Ex and the upcoming Watchdogs – though I think it far surpasses each of these. Crux, on the other hand, shares similarities with all these but I’d like to include the hit television series starring Kiefer Sutherland, 24 and The Bourne Identity, starring Matt Damon.

Crux picks up months after the end of Nexus. Kaden and Feng are on the run, hiding from ruthless men eager for the $10 million bounty set by the Emerging Risks Directorate of the United States Department of Homeland Security. Because of Kade, Nexus 5 is available to the world. The ERD, looking for new ways to combat technological abuses, wants to capture Kade and coerce the program’s “back door” out of him. Meanwhile, Sam has finally found a home and happiness among the special Nexus-born children of a remote village. Here Sam has begun to put the past behind her – but when men come looking for the children she will be thrust back into the role she hoped to have left behind: killer. Crux expands the list of POV’s from the first book – this time featuring the perspectives of Doctor Holtzman of the ERD, Kade’s friend Rangan Shankari, the Post-Human Liberation Front terrorist Breece, Sam’s mentor Kevin Nakamura, Su-Yong Shu and her post-human daughter Ling, and more.

Each character serves to broaden the scope of the novel and further complicate the already murky moral waters. Kaden and Sam both continue to progress as characters. In the wake of the Nexus 5 release Kaden has taken on the mantle of trans-human vigilante – working furiously to prevent abuses of his program. As the only person alive with the “back door” codes Kaden is burdened with a tremendous responsibility and he is forced to acknowledge that perhaps no one should have such power. Likewise, Sam has moved on past her fear of technology and embraced Nexus 5 and its users. Both characters are tested mentally as well as physically, as Naam puts each through the ringer to see just how far they will go to stand by their beliefs. Rangan Shankari was an unexpected favorite of mine reading Crux. I love his transformation-arc, from carefree party boy to selfless activist is encouraging. I found Holtzman less likeable but his story was no less important. I would have liked to experience more of Kevin Nakamura’s spycraft, as he was one of the few characters not running Nexus 5. It was also interesting to watch Su-Yong Shu’s mental stability to deteriorate. Reading Crux was one of the rare occasions that I enjoyed each and every POV, as all the characters served to broaden the scope of the conflict.

Probably the coolest thing about this series is, fittingly, Nexus 5. The creation of this software/hardware/drug is probably the greatest invention since humanity first discovered the wheel. It is an invention that holds endless potential, both good and bad. Nexus 5 can be used to connect people in a way never before possible – it can also be used to enslave, steal information, and create undetectable assassins. The Emerging Risk Directorate’s campaign against Nexus 5, and similar technology, resembles the War on Drugs in many ways. Many innocents are caught in the crossfire, and the violence continues to escalate as mankind crawls closer to enlightenment or extinction. Plenty of moral questions arise regarding Nexus 5 and its applications and through this lens Crux is highly socially relevant. Like the best of Michael Crichton’s work, it forces readers to sit and consider the risks and rewards of technology.

Sure, there’s some introspection, but there’s also a lot of fun to be had. Crux is filled with bounty hunters, terrorists, hired guns, enhanced special agents, and more. It’s always a joy to read about Sam applying her trans-human attributes to wet work. Feng, the Confucian Fist, and Kevin Nakamura of the CIA are also hardcore brawlers as evidenced by two pretty high-octane action sequences nearing the end of the novel. If Naam carries on Crichton’s tradition when it comes to theoretical science, he also channels Tom Clancy to considerable effect when it comes to action. Action sequences are clean and precise and saturated with cool tech and collateral damage. Both Nexus and Crux heavily feature action but the finale of Crux suggests that the human/post-human war is yet to come – and it will be apocalyptic. Crux thrusts readers into a variety of colorful settings, from Shanghai to Burma and Vietnam. Naam did a wonderful job bringing Ho Chi Minh City to life as a vibrant and strange destination.

I consider the variety Naam displays to be a major selling point for this series. Not only are the locations unique, but Crux offers multiple beliefs, lifestyles, and backgrounds. This is not some whitewashed, homogeneous thriller. Heterosexuals and homosexuals, technophiles and luddites, Americans and Chinese and Indian, there’s a wide array of diversity represented.

Crux is a model sequel, a novel that builds off of the success of the original rather than trying to imitate it. Naam is writing one of the most exciting thrillers I have ever encountered – crafting a near future that holds as much promise as it does menace. This could usher in a new wave of cyberpunk, a socially relevant shot to the frontal lobe. I hope the overlords of Angry Robot Books are smart enough to lock this series down for the long run, because I need more.

5 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Crux by Ramez Naam”

  1. Wow! A great review – thanks!

    I suppose we should think about sending you a review copy of book 3 – Apex – before it come out at the end of next year… :-)

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