is a gripping piece of near future speculation, riffing on the latest developments in cognition enhancement. With all the grit and pace of the Bourne films, this is a clever and confident debut by a writer expertly placed to speculate about where we're heading. Unlike a lot of SF, this novel dares to look the future square in the eye."
Alastair Reynolds, bestselling author of
Blue Remembered Earth
"Any old writer can take you on a roller coaster ride, but it takes a wizard like Ramez Naam to take you on the same ride while he builds the roller coaster a few feet in front of your plummeting car… you'll want to read it before everyone's talking about it."
John Barnes, author of the
"If you are posthuman or transhuman this is an absolute must-read for you; and even mere mortals will love it."
Philip Palmer, author of
is the most brilliant hard SF thriller I've read in years. It's smart, it's gripping, and it describes a chilling reality that is all-too-plausible… Reminds me of Michael Crichton at his best."
Brenda Cooper, author of
The Silver Ship and the Sea
The Creative Fire
"An incredibly imaginative, action-packed intellectual romp! Ramez Naam has turned the notion of human liberty and freedom on its head by forcing the question: Technology permitting, should we be free to radically alter our physiological and mental states?"
Dani Kollin, Prometheus award winning author of
The Unincorporated Man
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
More Than Human:
Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement
For Mom and Dad, who brought me into this world,
raised me, and have supported me at every step.1
THE DON JUAN PROTOCOL
Friday 2040.02.17 : 2255 hours
The woman who called herself Samantha Cataranes climbed out of the cab and walked towards the house on 23rd Street. The door opened, spilling light and the sounds of music and voices out into the night. A pair of young women emerged, arm in arm, wrapped up in conversation. They smiled at her as she passed them, and Sam smiled back. Faceprinting code identified them, used her tactical contacts to superimpose softly glowing names, ages, and threat levels beside their faces in her field of view. All green. Civilians. No known connection to her mission.
Sam ran her eyes over the exterior of the home. Her sight came alive with structural elements, power lines, data lines, possible ingress and egress through doors, windows, weak spots in the walls. She blinked it all away. None of it served her purpose tonight.
Her left knee twinged as she ascended the stairs. A memento of that disastrous firefight outside Sari. As if she could ever forget that night. Her face felt tight. Her lips were overstuffed, her cheeks taut, her jaw awkwardly cocked. Her nerves strained in protest at the visage she held. It would be a relief to relax into her own face again.
Bits of her briefing for this mission flitted through her mind unbidden. A building blasted apart, bodies strewn everywhere. Religious leaders murdered by trusted old friends. Politicians with sudden, implausible changes of heart. All the suicide bombings, the assassinations, the political subversions, the blank-faced companies of inhumanly loyal, unthinking, unquestioning super-soldiers. And behind them all, the common thread: Beijing's new coercion technology. A technology that this target might just help them get a step closer to understanding and defeating.
Sam opened the door and let herself in to the party, a wide smile on her false face. Overly loud flux music hit her. The smells of dozens of bodies inundated her sharpened senses. Identities swam over the sea of faces. Somewhere in this house, she would find her man.
Friday 2040.02.17 : 2310 hours
"Do you romp?" the girl asked. She leaned in close, close enough to be heard over the din of the party, close enough to kiss.
Kaden Lane watched carefully, clinically, as Don Juan molded his body's responses. A slight smile. Release of oxytocin. Dilation of capillaries in his cheeks. A mix of confidence and anticipation. Candidate replies flitted through his mind, half-formed on his lips, as the software's conversational package sifted through possibilities:
[Yeah, I love to dance.]
[Sure, what kind of music do you like?]
[If I'm with a pretty girl like you.]
Signals propagated through the highly modified web of Nexus nodes in his brain. The drug's nanostructures evaluated data, processed it, transformed it. Don Juan made a choice in milliseconds. Input spiked at Nexus nodes attached to neurons in the speech centers of his frontal and temporal lobes. Nerve impulses raced outward from speech centers to motor cortex, and from there to the muscles of his tongue and jaw, his lips and diaphragm. A fraction of a second after he'd heard the girl speak, those muscles contracted to produce his response.
"Yeah, I love to dance," Kade heard himself say.
Who writes these lame lines? he wondered.
"Want to see if there's something good tonight?" she asked.
Frances. Her name was Frances. They'd met twenty minutes ago in this hallway. She was twenty-six years old, a Virgo, a graphic designer by trade. Frances smelled nice, liked to touch him when she talked, and did look rather fetching in her tight pants and low-cut top. She loved acro-yoga, loud dance music, travel in Central America, and her two cats.
Kade had never asked anyone their sign before. He supposed in a way he still hadn't. The software had done that with his mouth and lungs. Did that count?
All the test was supposed to show was that software could use their Nexus-based interface to control speech and hearing in a real environment. It was Rangan who'd insisted on using this dating app to test their platform, and that Kade be the one to run it. "You gotta get out and have some fun, dude," he'd said. "All you do is mope around. Flirting with some girls is exactly what you need."
Next time, he thought to himself, Rangan can do the field test.
"Sure, let's see what's happening," Don Juan answered.
Kade pulled out his phone and stuck it to the wall beside them. Don Juan spoke to it. "Bay Area dance parties tonight. Full immersion for two."
Frances turned to face the camera. A partygoer jostled her as he scooted by down the hall. She squeezed up against Kade, nestling into his side. Her body
feel rather warm and enticing, he had to admit. He put an arm around her waist as the phone responded to his request. Maybe Rangan did have a point…
Retinal projectors sought out their eyes. Targeted acoustics zeroed in on their ears. Local events scrolled across shared vision.
SEROTONIN OVERLOAD IV
A brief advertisement for the event washed over their senses: pulsing music, syncopated lights, warm smiles, dancers embracing and moving in time.
Frances made a face. "A little too earnest for me."
Kade chuckled. "Next."
CYGNUS EXPRESS – A PROJECT ODYSSEUS FUNDRAISER
Vastness of space, planets orbiting distant suns, partygoers in gleaming imitations of vacuum suits, bleeping sound of contact through the static of cosmic background radiation, overlaid with driving trance rhythm.
Frances shrugged. Damn, she felt good pressed against him.
"In space," she said, "no one can hear you dance."
Kade shrugged. "Next."
CARE BARE by UNITED SKEINS OF SEXY
New sights and sounds: Writhing, almost-naked bodies, skin moving against skin, moaning pulsing sounds, fast flashes of mouths and hips and breasts.
Frances moved her hip against him just a bit. "Now
looks pretty hot. Yeah?"
Kade laughed out loud. Any other night, he wouldn't have the balls to venture into a scene like that. But what the hell. His task tonight was to push the platform they'd built on top of Nexus's nanoscale elements to its limits.
It'll be a great test case, he told himself. I'm doing this for science.
Don Juan responded for him. "Maybe. You planning on getting fresh with me?"
Kade let it drive, let it wink with his eye.
Frances smirked and raised an eyebrow, turning towards him, her body still pressed against his. "Oh, you'd like that, would you?"
She batted her pretty green eyes up at him.
"Oh, I think the pleasure would be all yours," Don Juan replied. Kade put his other arm around her waist, holding her to him now, looking down into her eyes.
Frances bit her lower lip.
Kade might have stuttered, might have blushed, but a more calculating logic was in control. "Your place or mine?"