The author’s 1988 novel, Transformations, told the story of a young geneticist who wanted to root out and replace the human species’ more unsavory character traits. But he found himself part of an experiment by advance beings who revealed the real inner-workings of human evolution as self-transcendence.
Twenty-five years later, after the themes of transhumanism, its peril and its hope, have been bandied about by authors of every stripe, Nelson revisits these themes in I, Human. Set in the “Brave New World” of the late 21st century, most everyone has neural implants that have raised average I.Q.s to 200 plus and monitor one’s activities. The downside is they suppress feelings and intuition and are causing massive emotional breakdowns among the techno elites.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
Alan Reynard starts the novel as a typical Everyman: he has a neural implant, making him a transhuman, that has upped his I.Q. and he uses that ability. However, where he differs is that he works for a company, K industries (“a private sector think tank for all levels of law enforcement”) that specializes in finding individuals who are breaking the law. Reynard specializes in thinking outside of the box, thinking of non-logical ways that a felony was accomplished. Additionally, when being interviewed by the company psychologist Reynard shows he is able to switch from one mental state to another to another quickly. It’s not explained what he’s doing, but it’s strongly insinuated that he’s able to essentially switch off his emotions, an ability he’s trained himself to do. This distances him from being human and more like his computer implant, but makes him the perfect focus for an individual to rediscover what it means to be emotional. Reynard hides nothing from the reader in his narration. He is, rightfully, in a constant state of second guessing, bordering on paranoia, how anyone’s words and actions could be hiding a more sinister purpose.
Dr. Klaus weaves in and out of the novel whenever Reynard is mandated to speak with the psychologist. Klaus is an wonderfully enigmatic character, who seems to confide confidential information to his patient, but ultimately reports to the company. Maria Fria is the X factor of this novel, being the next “borny” assignment. The government, who has hired Reynard, believes she may have telepathic abilities because she is causing a community in Arizona to grow in their distrust of implants and has, supposedly, caused previous agents to go insane from their contact with her. After a tremendous build up from company characters, Fria turns out to be a very different character, and in doing so Nelson has made her every appearance an important and excellent one. These characters are all outstanding, with Reynard being one of the better original science fiction protagonists I’ve encountered in some time.
There are no radical or stereotypical science fiction settings in this book and that works immensely to the story’s success. This could be set in New York ten to twenty years from now. The explosive setting is in Arizona and the many road trips that Reynard takes with his companions. After being exposed to Fria, Reynard begins to see and experience things he hasn’t done before, allowing Nelson to describe sensations that are wonderful to read. The descriptions of something so simple as food made me immensely hungry with how each meal is described. This is good writing.
The action is psychological in this novel. The threat is what Fria and her ilk could do to one’s implant and to one’s mind. There is a lot of build up that allows Fria’s reveal and actions to have an incredibly high level of tension. Before going on this mission, every scene at Reynard’s home and work is one of constant distrust, pulling the reader into the protagonist’s mind wonderfully. This paranoia is constant, which had me reading the book in one setting because I could not put it down.
[While] the conclusion was a disappointment—once the characters make a key decision, the novel follows a predictable path—there is much to enjoy in this tale of a too near, too possible existence. Alan Reynard is one of the best Everyman characters in recent science fiction. If only the ending hadn’t taken a drastic turn. The questions this novel addresses go beyond the genre and hammer at modern man’s existence. Worth reading.
~ Patrick Hayes, SciFi Pulse
Future Vision: Dark Cloud with a Silver Lining
In his latest offering I, Human, John Nelson, veteran speculative fiction author of Transformations (1988) and Matrix of the Gods (1994), starts off in what seems to be the dystopian tradition of Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World. To the previously expounded population control methods like information restriction, political coercion and mind-numbing drugs, Nelson adds neural implants craftily programmed to boost recipients’ mental processing powers to genius levels while numbing normal emotions and intuition to almost nil.
Enough the spy novel, including double- and triple-agents, to satisfy thriller fans and with sufficient sex, both unconventional and romantic, to titillate, I, Human is staged on a hostile planet permanently disfigured by human science gone amok. The population is divided between those with the brain implant, which allows them to “enjoy” life in a technologically perfect bubble, and Bornies, those not so endowed, who live in the hinterlands with only the sluggish old brain as well as the primitive emotions and ungoverned feelings with which they were born.
Alan Reynard, a corporate intelligence analyst with an overly-inquisitive streak, is sent to the Arizona desert to infiltrate a Bornie community whose charismatic leader, Maria Fria, is known to heal and enhance ability in those with or without neural processors. But Alan’s handlers do not reveal the true purpose of the mission. Thus, he and an outcast former operative, Emma, find themselves trapped between the objectives of the implant manufacturer, the government, and their own awakening intuition and love for each other.
The bleak future world presented at the start the book was difficult to work my head into, but once I left behind the memory of the natural pleasure we still enjoy, I could empathize with those who never knew humanity’s once-benign home. The adjustment did not make me feel better, but I doubt that was the author’s intent. That said, the novel turns subtly optimistic, letting glimpses of light show through the self-inflicted misery. This positive slant, inserted seamlessly into a well-paced plot peopled with intriguing characters, is understated rather than obvious or didactic as is often the case in fiction with a message.
John Nelson’s has broad experience in diverse fields that range from neural science to energy medicine to psychology and spirituality. In this visionary fiction work, he adroitly synthesizes these many elements to bring the reader face-to-face with present-day dilemmas that are now leading us to that crux where we have to choose between human annihilation and spiritual evolution. That he does so without leaving the reader unduly depressed or too easily euphoric is masterful. I, Human is not merely a good read; it is food for thought and action.
~ Victor Smith, Visionary Fiction Alliance
Humans have been upgraded to be more efficient. But those upgrades come with a price, less connection to the people around them. This loss of emotional ties makes work hard for some people. Alan Reynard works for a contractor. He shows a level of empathy and intuition rarely found in enhanced humans. This makes him both useful and feared.
Those who choose not to become enhanced are referred to as "borny". Alan has infiltrated borny communities in the past looking for trouble and signs of unrest. His most recent deep cover involved a pretend marriage to Emma. They had a deeper connection, one that is a concern to the government, but there is a greater problem.
Alan is sent to the Southwest to infiltrate a community of spiritual healers. In order to learn about the group, Alan undergoes a healing. The healing creates paths and options which open up the future, a future that some don't want to come about. He must decide whether to help or hinder the makers of the enhancements that allow him access to great insights.
This novel is set in an established universe, but does not seem to be a direct sequel to the previous entrants. I was able to follow the story without having read any of the earlier material. Although hinted at, I would have liked to see a little more of borny society and how they view enhanced humans.
The story is told from the first person perspective. It follows Alan through his journeys. This is a big switch from the third person multi-POV novels I have been reading recently. The clean prose doesn't get lost in changing perspectives allowing readers to just go with the flow of the story.
The thing that drew me to this story was the idea of bio-enhanced humans. This exploration was focused on normal individuals. This in contrast to the military science fiction where I first encountered enhanced brains where most of the enhanced were soldiers. The encounters of soldiers are focused on survival and battle, not humans becoming all they can in noncombat situations. The tech in military SF is often more tech- than bio- based.
There was also a little hint of the potential for the future as people reach their full potential. I definitely recommend this novel for people looking to explore the bounds of humanity. I am also likely to go check out some of the author's earlier works to see how this world developed. ~ Bill Lawhorn, SFRevu
In John Nelson’s futuristic and aptly titled spy thriller, I, Human, he explores the boundaries of what it means to be human. Set at the end of the 21st century, when humanity has split into two groups, the techno elite with implanted neural brain processors that vastly increase intelligence, but which suppress emotion and intuition, and those called “Bornies”, who have refused the artificial enhancement. Intelligence analyst Alan Reynard is sent on a mission to secretly infiltrate a Bornie spiritual community whose leader, Maria Fria, seems to be able to heal people and enhance emotion in ways beyond what the brain processors can do. But those who have sent him have not revealed the real purpose of his mission and Reynard and an outcast former girlfriend/operative, Emma, will find themselves on a dangerous exploration into the truth of self, consciousness and who we are and can be. An intriguing and superb futuristic spy thriller.
Andrew Kaplan, author of the "Homeland" and "Scorpion" spy novels ~
I award points from the start because the cover makes this title appear to be “iHuman,” a title that reached its apex with the delightful TV show iCarly a number of human years ago.
But it's “I, Human.” And it can\'t be seen on Nickelodeon, unless they make some very abrupt changes.
It's an intense, brutal hard science-fiction thriller about the divide between technology and spiritualism. It's brought to life in a guy with neural implants amid a society that isn't dealing well with their implants. Emotional breakdowns are the hijinks that ensue when this society uses tech to improve itself.
This book could use another round of copy-editing. One character is introduced as “He's pudgy and smarmy and nobody liked him.” I would prefer to see that acted out in the story than just being told about it.
I'm a copy editor in my real life. In fact, I will gladly copy-edit sci-fi novels, if only to make sure that the contraction “it's” always has the apostrophe. This is my job. I can't un-see it.
Beyond that, it's a very good story. The characters are lived-in and detailed, and the drama plays out while also asking tough questions. That's a rare feat.
~ Joe Crowe, Revolution Science Fiction
by John Nelson
A spy story with an evolutionary twist
Who do you trust?
Your name is Alan, and you are the sharpest knife in the drawer. Your combination of surveillance skills, trained intelligence, and honed intuition make you a formidable counter-intelligence agent for your employer, which is ostensibly K Industries, and, is, in reality, though slightly behind the scenes, the government.
The same traits that make your services extremely valuable—especially the fact you are highly intuitive—make your employers highly nervous. Those traits make you a good undercover agent, but they make you a potential turncoat. Your employers keep a close and wary eye on you.
And because you are highly intuitive, and because you weren’t born yesterday, you don’t trust them any more than they trust you. Who do you trust? Nobody, more or less—and for good reason.
I, Human is set a few decades in the future, in a society that is reaping the harvest we are sowing now. The partial collapse of the ozone layer and the rise of the oceans have led people to protect themselves in ways they take for granted and we would find horrifying. They experiencing nature mostly through video cameras, they eat bland, tasteless food, and they live without seeing the night sky or interacting with animals other than the occasional pet. It is a diminished world, taken for granted by the majority because they have never known anything different.
Politically, a corporate / governmental elite manipulates everything and everybody, including each other. The elite is are all about control – and there is no tool any of them will not use if needed to prevent control from slipping away.
One such tool is universal surveillance. In this time, everyone automatically assumes (correctly) that they are under continuous electronic scrutiny. Life now means always avoiding the slip of the tongue or the unguarded facial expression that might give you away. Worse, since electronic monitoring can read your emotions, you know you had better have a good cover story available to explain away the results of unsanctioned thoughts. The natural result is the curtailment – practically the abandonment – of emotionally intimate relationships.
But the sharpest arrow in the surveillance state’s quiver is the neural processor implant. The NP vastly enhances computational ability, making people smarter and faster. (Alan’s IQ is about 200.) But it also deadens feelings, which is fine with the powers that be.
The result is a life of almost autistic self-absorption, an almost unbearable loneliness, taken for granted the way the fact that tasteless food is taken for granted. It is a world of deadened feeling, with sex as casual, as mechanical, as anything else, and real relationship rare. And that is life inside the world of the privileged!
There is another, the communities called “borny” because they prefer to live the way they were born, refusing neural processors. In a society that demands conformity, there is no threat so great as those who go their own way, regardless whether they have any additional agenda. Just the fact that they exist makes them a potential threat.
And so, one day, fresh from his latest counter-intelligence coups, Alan is told he is going undercover again. There is a healer out in New Mexico whose healings, and the healings performed by those she has trained, threaten to interfere with the functioning of the neural processor. Is she secretly attempting to bring down the government? Is she part of an underground network? He is supposed to go find out.
He doesn’t know what the real agenda is, so he doesn’t know how much room to maneuver he has. Making it more complicated, he is assigned a female agent who will pose as his lover / assistant. Because the bornies are highly intuitive, it will be necessary that he and she sleep together, regardless of the fact that he is officially married to someone else. (In this society, business as usual.) This means one more layer of psychic protection to add, because of course he knows not to trust her.
And then he meets the healer, as planned, and experiences her energy, as planned – and that’s the end of the plan. From this point in, the plan is being re-written on the fly, by Alan, by the healer, by life itself. As he goes farther and farther off-script (carefully, deniably, but ever more so) increasingly there is the question of whether he will live to tell the tale.
I won’t give away any more of the plot, except to say that Alan second-guesses his orders as he goes along, and plays increasingly complicated and delicate mind games with his controller, trying to hide the fact that he isn’t really on the team any more. In the end he discovers what he already took for granted, that nothing was as it seemed, and that his employers had no interest in his welfare or even in his survival. But by that time he has become transformed in ways foreseen by nobody, and he has put vaster changes into motion.
In the end, the take-away is that life itself has preferences, and will produce unforeseen developments to support itself—but it needs human cooperation, and only in that cooperation can the products of a distorted society learn what it is to be truly human.
Absorbing and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.
New Dawn Magazine – Frank DeMarco
~ Frank DeMarco, New Dawn Magazine
In John Nelson’s futuristic and aptly titled spy thriller, I, Human, he explores the boundaries of what it means to be human... An intriguing and superb futuristic spy thriller. ~ Andrew Kaplan, author of the Homeland and Scorpion novels
Lisbeth Salander attacked the NSA by hacking into it. Nelson’s hero uses bio-energetics to reprogram his futuristic brain implant to undercut an even more pervasive surveillance society. A prophetic novel of an all-too-possible future. ~ Frank DeMarco, author of Messenger and The Cosmic Internet
“In the late 1970s, I gathered together with a group of doctors to found Physicians for Social Responsibility and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War to prevent what we called the final epidemic of the human race. If we do not annihilate ourselves in an atomic war, John Nelson, in I, Human, imaginatively gives another apocalyptic scenario about the dark sides of pharmacogenomics and neural implants. He tackles a ticklish question. What exactly is a human being, and is there an invisible line inside that splits the human biocomputer into part man and part machine? And how will governments of the future manipulate it?”
~ Henry David Abraham, M.D., author, and co-founder of PSR and IPPNW, recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize