Saturday, September 21, 2013

Ramez Naam's CRUX

As was true of its predecessor, Nexus, there is a wonderfully thoughtful, speculative exploration on the real world implications of a technology that can connect human minds to the internet of things and to each other buried within Crux.

Deeply, deeply buried to the point of almost being lost.

Which is to say that Crux could have gone one of two ways: it could have fully embraced the neuro/cyberpunk genre it had so much potential to be the greatest new example of, or it could have sunk to the level of techno-thriller with some trace transhuman elements for color.

Crux is, for all its concern with the fate of several groups of cybernetically and neurologically linked children (the Nexus technology, street drug and brain operating system in one, having been seized on early on as a breakthrough therapy for autism, causing thousands of parents to become rogue Nexus users that they might finally communicate and share with their offspring), an action thriller. And a bit of a hot mess of one at that, once it gets going.

For where Nexus contented itself with telling a few people's stories, chiefly Kade's and Samantha's and, to a degree, Su-Yong Shu's, Crux frantically struggles to tell all of the stories, cramming several novels' worth of narratives and ideas (all of which deserve to have been developed at a more leisurely pace, such potential for greatness do they have) into one book and switching, ADD-style, rapidly between storylines, jumping from character to character for just a page or two at a time until the frustrated reader has lost track entirely of what any of these people might remotely have to do with each other except Nexus. They all have something to do with Nexus. Yeah. OK. But wait, what? Who is this person again and why do I care? I thought this chapter was about this other person two continents away? No seriously, who is this person and why do I care?

It got so frustrating I had to put this one down for a while, because I was even losing track of, and sympathy for, the main characters from Nexus. And, of course, tapping my foot through the protracted and frequent bouts of ACKSHUN! Which, admittedly, Naam writes well enough. If you like that sort of thing.

But, I was still curious to see where things were going. And, after all, I liked Nexus enough to name it as an honorable mention for my Definitive Top Ten All Time Desert Island Works of Speculative Fiction list. And the story of Su-Yong Shu, revealed as the first stable uploaded human who had just been walking around in a cloned body in Nexus, and her daughter Ling, was still really moving and compelling and I held out the hope that sooner or later the narrative would get back to them, maybe once everybody else was done shooting everybody else. Which it did, spectacularly if swiftly, setting up a whole new threat for the next novel.

For ultimately, most of what bugged me as I read Crux arose from classic middle chapter problems. The Fellowship, once established, gets broken and everybody has to have his own adventures for a while before the battle at the Black Gate and Mount Doom and the Eagles. The reader must just have faith that all these stories are going to knit back together in the last volume.

Maybe I'm just sick of everything being a trilogy?

Anyway, Crux isn't what I'd hoped it would be, but it's still a cracking good techno-thriller if you're in the mood for one. It's fast paced, full of fighting and explosions and dire threats and drone attacks and stealth goggles and unlimited bandwidth (for me, living in a Wyoming that is still riddled with spots where one can't even get first generation cell service, perfect global connectivity seems the most fantastic element of all) and hey, for what it's worth, no romance, which gives it an extra star right there, from me.


  1. Maybe I'm just sick of everything being a trilogy?

    I wonder if publishers like trilogies more than authors really do.

    1. I suspect you're on to something. It's guaranteed future sales, more or less, as long as the early books are good. But man, I wonder how many sales get LOST because of middle chapter failings.


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