Book Review: Autonomous

autonomousAutonomous
by Annalee Newitz
Biopunk
301 pages
Published 2017

Autonomous is an interesting story that poses a lot of moral questions. It doesn’t really take sides; both the pharmaceutical pirate and the agents tracking her down are painted in sympathetic ways, as if we’re meant to like them all. We see why Jack is a pharmaceutical pirate; medicine is only available to those rich enough to pay for it, so the poor stay poor and sick and short-lived. She wants to change that. She reverse-engineers drugs, manufactures them, and distributes them to the needy through her associates.

Meanwhile, Eliasz is a conflicted military agent who is sexually attracted to robots. Or at least to his partner, Paladin, though a flashback shows what might have been the start of his attraction to robots. Paladin is probably the single most interesting character in the entire book, as she muses on the nature of being indentured, and searches through her memories and the internet for information about her situation.

The book does have LGBT content – Jack is bisexual, and Eliasz is – robosexual? Is that a thing? Paladin could be called nonbinary or trans; she repeatedly mentions that gender isn’t a thing to robots, but because she’s a military robot, most people call her a he at the beginning of the book. She learns the brain inside her is female, and to make Eliasz more comfortable with his attraction, she decides to use female pronouns. Eliasz does use the F word to refer to himself being attracted to the robot at the beginning, when they were using male pronouns. This puzzles Paladin for a while, causing her to search the term and figure out what Eliasz meant by its use.

There’s a lot of complex world-building in this book that is barely brushed past. From the corporations who own patents covering everything, to the system of indenture that covers humans as well as robots, to the bio-domes that cover cities (but it’s livable outside the biodomes, so why are they needed?), to the new federations that cover continents that used to be divided into several countries – there’s a LOT going on. And there’s not just robots, but also some pretty advanced cybernetics implanted in humans as well as an everpresent network of data that can be tapped into with implants that everyone has.

Ultimately, for as complex as the world is, and cohesive as the plot is, I’m left wondering who, if anyone, was in the right in this story. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to be happy with the ending or not. I’ve seen other reviews saying Neuromancer was a way better book in a similar vein, and I actually have copy of that waiting to be read. So we’ll see.

From the cover of Autonomous:

When anything can be owned, how can we be free?

Earth, 2144. Jack is an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, a pharmaceutical Robin Hood traversing the world in a submarine, fabricating cheap scrips for poor people who can’t otherwise afford them. But her latest drug hack leaves a trail of lethal overdoses as people become addicted to their work, repeating job tasks until they become insane.

Hot on her trail, an unlikely pair: Eliasz, a brooding military agent, and his partner Paladin, a young indentured robot. As they race to stop information about the hacked drugs at their source, they form an uncommonly close relationship that neither of them fully understands, and Paladin begins to question their connection – and a society that profits from indentured robots. 

Advertisements

Book Review: Guardian Angels & Other Monsters

guardian angels other monstersGuardian Angels & Other Monsters
by Daniel H. Wilson
Sci-fi short stories
280 pages
Published 2018

So I obviously didn’t read the description of this book closely enough, because it wasn’t until I hit “One For Sorrow – A Clockwork Dynasty Story” that I realized this was the same author that wrote Clockwork Dynasty, a book I read last year! We’ll blame it on my goldfish memory. My goldfish memory is a large part of why I keep this blog, so I can look back and remember what I’ve read and what I thought about it! I randomly plucked this book off the New Book display while grabbing my holds from the library; I didn’t recognize the author’s name at the time. So I’m highly amused.

These stories are . . . hard to quantify.  Some of them I really enjoyed – “Miss Gloria” is probably my favorite – she’s a little girl with a robot guardian. When kidnappers disable the guardian and take her, the guardian’s programming jumps to the closest possible hardware – being the getaway car. From there to one of the kidnappers’ smart helmets, and so on. I very much disliked “The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever” but to say why would spoil it entirely. The Clockwork Dynasty short story was quite good – I’m still hoping he’ll write another full-length novel in that world.

I haven’t read his other novel, Robopocalypse, and I wasn’t thrilled with the short story from that universe, but the synopsis of it sounds amazing. I don’t know if I want to read it or not!

This was a fascinating, if weird, collection of stories. I like how he explores the possible consequences of things like teleportation, AIs, robots, and battle armor. As a race, our capacity for invention tends to outpace our consideration of the consequences. We try to figure out how to do a thing before stopping to consider if we should. In this book, over and over again, I feel that Wilson is asking us “Is this the future we want?” which has often been the case with truly visionary science fiction. That’s why people complaining about politics in science fiction make me laugh – science fiction has ALWAYS been political!

This is a book for mature audiences. There are deaths, sacrifices, pain, sex, war, and other mature themes – it’s definitely not the lightest of reads. But it’s good.

From the cover of Guardian Angels & Other Monsters:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Robopocalypse and The Clockwork Dynasty comes an enthralling and fantastic collection of stories that explores complex emotional and intellectual landscapes at the intersection of artificial intelligence and human life.

In “ALL KINDS OF PROOF,”  a down-and-out drunk makes the unlikeliest of friends when he is hired to train a mail-carrying robot; in “BLOOD MEMORY, ” a mother confronts the dangerous reality that her daughter will never assimilate in this world after she is the first child born through a teleportation device; in “THE BLUE AFTERNOON THAT LASTED FOREVER,” a physicist rushes home to be with his daughter after he hears reports of an atmospheric anomaly that he knows to be a sign of the end of Earth; in “MISS GLORIA,” a robot comes back to life in many different forms on a quest to save a young girl. Showcasing the brilliance and depth of Daniel H. Wilson’s imagination, Guardian Angels & Other Monsters is a masterful collection that probes the profound impact of the rise of digital intelligence in a human world.

Book Review: The Clockwork Dynasty

clockworkThe Clockwork Dynasty
Daniel H. Wilson
Fantasy
309 pages
Published 2017

Well. This one was unique! Pretty good, too. The story bounces between the present and the past, telling the story of a – race, I suppose – that has always lived alongside humans, but hidden. Typical urban fantasy, right? Except this – race – is robots. Automatons, they call themselves. Created by a race they call the progenitor race, or First Humans, they have waited alongside mankind for their creators to return. Their energy reserves are running low, however, and some have resorted to cannibalizing each other’s parts to stay alive. Enter our human protagonist, in possession of an ancient artifact passed down from her grandfather, who obtained it in World War II. Fascinated by it since she was a little girl, she’s made a career out of studying old clockwork toys, and has started to get a little too close to the truth.

The chapters of the book set in the present center on June Stefanov, the human woman who stumbles upon the truth. The chapters set in the past show history from the vantage point of Peter, her automaton companion. The bouncing back and forth happens a touch too quickly in some places, though it does do a good job of showing us what we need to know rather than telling us, which I always like. The details of how the automatons worked were fascinating, though obviously a bit magical. The automatons themselves don’t really understand much of it. The author has written other novels about robots, and in fact has a Ph.D. in robotics, so it’s pretty cohesive.

The plot rockets right along – I read the book in one sitting – and the action is pretty awesome. I wish there had been a bit more characterization of June. Other than being good at clockwork stuff, and a very curious person, we really don’t know much about her, and never find out. The book is more Peter’s story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was definitely a different spin on “hidden race existing beside humans.” Oh – and the villain’s armor was badass!

From the cover of The Clockwork Dynasty:

Present Day: When a young anthropologist specializing in ancient technology uncovers a terrible secret concealed in the workings of a three-hundred-year-old mechanical doll, she is thrown into a hidden world that lurks just under the surface of our own. With her career and her life at stake, June Stefanov will ally with a remarkable traveler who exposes her to a reality she never imagined as they embark on an around-the-world adventure and discover breathtaking secrets of the past…

Russia, 1710: In the depths of the Kremlin, the tsar’s loyal mechanician brings to life two astonishingly humanlike mechanical beings. Peter and Elena are a brother and sister fallen out of time, in possession of uncanny power, and destined to serve great empires. Struggling to blend into pre-Victorian society, they are pulled into a legendary war that has raged for centuries. 

Book Review: Ensnared

ensnaredEnsnared
Rita Stradling
Romance/Fairy-tale Retelling
419 pages
Published 2017

So I actually picked up this ebook because it’s by the same author as Colorless, a book on my to-read list, and Ensnared was on Kindle Unlimited. (So I could read it for free!) Long story short, I just spent the 99 cents to buy the ebook of Colorless, because I REALLY enjoyed Ensnared. I’ve always had a weak spot for retellings of Fairy-tales, and this was no different.

Ensnared is a rework of Beauty and the Beast – but with robots and artificial intelligence running rampant as well. The Beast, in this book, is a rich eccentric holed up in a tower away from all human contact. He commissions a robot companion from a genius inventor, and when it’s not done in time, Alainn chooses to go in its stead so her father won’t go to jail. Assured, by the robot itself, that she’ll only have to masquerade as a robot for a few weeks until the work can be finished and swapped out (the robot looks exactly like Alainn!) – she sacrifices her freedom to ensure her father’s.

Then, of course, the inevitable happens and Alainn and the recluse fall in love. Things quickly spiral out of control, with hacked AIs, killer robots, and monkeys. (Yes, monkeys! It’s great.)

It’s a quick read – I have a hard time believing that some of these ebooks are actually as long as they say they are – or perhaps 419 Kindle pages aren’t as long as 419 real pages, I’m not sure.

Regardless, it was a fun little romp, and free if you have Kindle Unlimited. I’m even more eager to read Colorless, now!

From the cover of Ensnared:

A Near Future Retelling of Beauty and the Beast

Alainn’s father is not a bad man. He’s a genius and an inventor. When he’s hired to create the robot Rose, Alainn knows taking the money is a mistake. 

Rose acts like a human. She looks exactly like Alainn. But, something in her comes out wrong.

To save her father from a five year prison sentence, Alainn takes Rose’s place. She says goodbye to the sun and goes to live in a tower no human is allowed to enter. She becomes the prisoner of a man no human is allowed to see. 

Believing that a life of servitude lies ahead, Alainn finds a very different fate awaits her in the company of the strange, scarred recluse.