the Little Red Reviewer

Nexhuman by Francesco Verso

Posted on: August 12, 2018

Nexhuman by Francesco Verso

Publishing date Aug 14th, 2018 (click here to pre-order)

Where I got it: Received copy for review from Apex Books*

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#sorrynotsorry, I’m going to give you a spoiler right out of the gate:

 

Nexhuman will offer you enough ideas and discussion topics and thought experiments to keep you busy for the next ten years. In fact, an entire Convention programming track could be built just around the questions and ideas in this book.

 

What Nexhuman does not offer is concrete answers to any of the questions that are brought up.

 

It’s something you should know before you pick up this book: If you are the kind of reader who wants a book to ask questions and then cleanly answer them, Nexhuman will be one confusing and disappointing read.  On the flip side, if you enjoy science fiction books that ask questions about how society works, why humans act the way they do, why we make the decisions we make, how obsession and fear and passion work, a book that invites you to pull your own thoughts apart and examine them, and oh  yeah, if you love beautiful prose that doesn’t rely on snark to get a point across, Nexhuman could be the best book you read this year. Interested in how any of this came about? Francesco Verso recently published a short essay in Apex Magazine about the origins of the novel.

 

Another spoiler: Nexhuman does not at all read like your typical popular American-style science fiction novel. What I mean by that is there is no snarky language for the sake of being snarky or shocky,  no sexy cinematic scenes, the language is often raw and blunt, and the characters don’t really care if you like, agree with, relate to, or sympathize with them. I mean no disrespect to science fiction when I say that Nexhuman reads like literature.

 

Most of the novel takes place in or around a dump that overflows with consumer goods. For me, this novel was a connecting keystone for works such as Battle Angel Alita, Wall-E, John Scalzi’s Lock In, Ferrett Steinmetz’s The Uploaded, David Brin’s Kiln People, and other stories that touch on hyperconsumerism and leaving our fleshbodies behind for one reason or another.

 

Peter and his family make their living by clawing through the trash to find bits and pieces that can be resold, recycled, reused. Many household items are 5th, 6th, nth hand. Having something that is brand new is a status symbol, but also a symbol of flagrant waste.  Even Peter’s prosthetic limbs are made of whatever he can find in the dump. If he wants a better arm or a better leg, he better hit the jackpot of finding outdated robot or android parts in the dump. I spent 80% of the book wondering if he was born with a birth defect, or if there had been an accident or infection that led to his amputations. Peter doesn’t like to talk about, and when I found how what had happened to him,  not only did I realize why he hates to talk about it, but everything in the beginning of the book suddenly made a ton more sense!

 

Ok, so what the hell is this book about?  On the edge of the dump is a commercial district. Teenage Peter has a puppy-dog crush on a young woman named Alba who works at the travel agency. He watches her from afar, he shyly says hello to her when she comes to unlock the business in the morning.   He begins to view himself as her protector. She politely engages in conversation with him, asks him how his day is going, says hello. Alba is the first person in his life who has ever shown him the slightest bit of unconditional kindness, so it’s no wonder his crush turns into infatuation.

 

Is it before or after Peter’s brother’s gang attacks Alba and tears her body apart at the seams that Peter realizes she is a Nexhuman?

The plot of the book revolves around Peter spending making it his life’s goal to find all of the pieces of Alba’s body, and put her back together. So they can live happily ever after. Because he loves her with every atom of his being. Ok, so maybe less “life’s goal” and more “possibly really unhealthy obsession”.  He does unspeakable things to get information about where her parts are. To him, the things he does and is forced to do are outside of his goal, and therefore do not matter. Some of these scenes are very hard to read. His obsession with a woman who barely knows him is hard to sympathize with. On an unrelated not, Peter’s abusive brother seriously just needs to die.

 

I’m really not sure how I felt about Peter and his thought processes. In real life, would he be labeled a stalker? But I sure loved all the discussions on consciousness, love, memory, and versions of ourselves. And I loved that I kept asking myself “Why did Alba download herself in an android body? Why did she become a Nexhuman in the first place? What if it wasn’t her choice? And why isn’t Peter asking himself any of those questions?  For me, the best part of Nexhuman was the questions that were never explicitly asked.

 

As time goes on, Peter internalizes his obsession. He gets married (a fascinating disaster unto itself), he “behaves”,  attempts to be respectful to his abusive brother and his clueless Mom, he tries to show his wife some love and affection. His obsession never wanes, he just stops talking to people about it.

 

There is a fantastic scene between Peter and his mechanic friend Ion, where Ion is trying to explain to Peter that Alba’s nexhuman body is just one version of Alba. Her original download is stored somewhere, and the more time that goes by, the more her nexhuman body diverges from her original download. Which begs the question – are there multiple versions of her? (holy shit, is every travel agent an “Alba”???)  Could her original download just get downloaded into a new body? Even if Ion and Peter could do that, it wouldn’t be the same Alba, because she wouldn’t have any memories of befriending Peter at her travel agency business. Also? Ion is a fantastic character, I’d happily read an entire novel just about him. Peter doesn’t seem to take to heart the things Ion says about versions and transfers of memory, but I did.  Or maybe Peter was listening, because years later he has this gorgeous thought:

 

“They do not belong to the same species as us. Nexhumans are like the sarcophagi and totems of the past; in carrying our souls into the future like those ancient vehicles carried out spirits in to the afterlife, I see in them a similar attempt to imprint ourselves on the continuum of eternity a mark of our desire to last forever.”

 

Thems some pretty heavy words.  If you think about it, any kind of funerary rite – a crypt, a tomb, a ceremony, a headstone – these all freeze time at the moment of loss.  We eventually go on with our lives, but the person we lost, they live forever in our memories and in the memorial we have erected for them.  What if you could skip all of that? What if you could still be alive, and be a literal, walking, talking, memorial to yourself?   100 years after the events of Nexhuman, will it be a completely normal thing for all people to become Nexhuman at say, age 40?  Why deal with arthritis, cancer, diabetes, weight gain, when you could just download your brain into a perfect-looking body and avoid all those fleshbody annoyances? Is this the next step in human evolution?

 

Like I said right at the start, this novel asks a ton of questions, but doesn’t offer much answers. Because Peter doesn’t care about answers. He only cares about putting Alba back together. Surrounded by refuse, he refuses to give up. He literally becomes the verb of the noun that his world is made of.

* Full disclosure: I am an author interviewer at Apex Magazine.

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7 Responses to "Nexhuman by Francesco Verso"

Oh yeah! This sounds incredible! I read a novel in which a virtual copy of all of a person’s memories/thoughts/experiences could be downloaded as a kind of memorial to them after their death – no longer changing or growing, just a snapshot of them as they were at the time of their death. This made me think of that … blowed if I can remember what the book was. 🙂

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Would love to know the title, if you ever remember it.

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I’m gonna go back over my reading lists, see if I can find it …

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[…] JUST ONE THING MISSING. Andrea discusses “Nexhuman by Francesco Verso” at Little Red […]

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[…] Andrea Johnson reviews Nexhuman on her website […]

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OK, so I think it was The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds … but I maybe remembered it a bit wrong. The main character interviews the virtual copies/digital back-ups of a crew after they all die .. and in my mind after the fact I maybe embroidered my memory of this part of the story a bit. It was a good book all the same. 🙂

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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