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vN (First Machine Dynasty) [Kindle Edition]

Madeline Ashby
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Amy Peterson is a self-replicating humanoid robot known as a VonNeumann.

For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother's past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.

Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she's learning impossible things about her clade's history - like the fact that she alone can kill humans without failsafing...

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews


"Picks up where Blade Runner left off and maps territories Ridley Scott barely even glimpsed. (Philip K Dick would have been at home here, but Ashby's prose is better.) vN might just be the most piercing interrogation of humanoid AI since Asimov kicked it all off with the Three Laws." - Peter Watts, author of Blindsight... vN did not disappoint. It is a fantastic adventure story that carries a sly philosophical payload about power and privilege, gender and race. It is often profound, and it is never boring." - Cory Doctorow

About the Author

Madeline Ashby grew up in a household populated by science fiction fans. She graduated from a Jesuit university in 2005, after having written a departmental thesis on science fiction. After meeting Ursula K. LeGuin in the basement of the Elliott Bay Book Company that year, she decided to start writing science fiction stories. While immigrating to Canada from the United States in 2006 , she could not work or study and joined the Cecil Street Irregulars – a genre writers’ workshop founded by Judith Merril – instead. Since then she has been published in Tesseracts, Flurb, Nature, Escape Pod and elsewhere. She has a masters degree in Manga and Anime and writes on such matters for i09, and BoingBoing. Currently she works as a strategic foresight consultant in Toronto.

Product Details

  • File Size: 413 KB
  • Print Length: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Angry Robot (July 31, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0076Q1J60
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #229,807 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
40 of 48 people found the following review helpful
But really, all pop culture references aside (and there are numerous), the book was middle of the road for me. For all the potential this story had, I found myself really struggling with the pacing, lack of exposition, and the ending. I hate to give the book two stars because there were some great ideas presented, and I certainly think Amy is an endearing protagonist who is worthy of reader affection, but after about halfway through the novel I found myself skimming pages in an almost desperate attempt to finish the book without spending any more time on it than I had to (which I did). The events that transpire around the book's middle and thereafter really fumbled me up, and the only reason I opted to finish the book was because of the time I'd already invested in the first half. I'll do my best to avoid spoilers

We are introduced to Amy (a synthetic humanoid android) in the prologue through the viewpoint of her human father. The time we spend here is actually quite precious and does its job of bringing the reader into a world that certainly has an authentic feel. Chaos ensues during Amy's kindergarten grad ceremony when her glitched-out grandmother shows up and demonstrates a failsafe malfunction that allows her to kill a human child, one of Amy's classmates. Amy flies into action an eats her grandmother, somehow absorbing her software.

We then switch to Amy for most of the remainder of the book. Amy comes under arrest after the events of her grad ceremony cause something of a mass-market recall for her model. On her way to "prison" she is boosted by another vN, Javair, and begins living as a fugitive with the primary goal of reuniting with her parents, while the whole time learning about her mother and grandmother's past.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I am pleased to say that this book gets it mostly right. It's enjoyable, scientifically minded, culturally thought-provoking, and examines a real life issue in the context of genre, which long-time readers of this blog know is something I highly enjoy.

The first thing that made me know this is a smart book is the source of the robots (called Von Neumanns after their creator). A fundamentalist group in the American South decided that the humans left behind after Jesus' Second Coming should have someone to help them through the Tribulation, so they invented humanoid robots to be ready to help. Clearly, the Second Coming didn't happen, and the fundamentalists ended up selling Von Neumanns, and the Von Neumanns wind up a part of the cultural backdrop, not to mention the porn industry. This is the most unique and engaging origin story for robots that I've seen, plus it makes sense and provides cultural commentary.

The characters, including the robots, are three-dimensional. Everyone has complex motivations and the main characters definitely grow and progress with time. No one is presented as pure evil or good.

The plot is similarly complex. There's a lot going on in Amy's world, and none of it is predictable. What is the failsafe precisely and is it a good or a bad thing? Is it a natural progression that it doesn't work in Amy? What about how Amy's mother and grandmother reacted to the human world around them? Did they see accurate shortcomings or were they just malfunctioning? And what about how the various humans use the Von Neumann's? For instance, pedophiles acquire Von Neumanns and keep them young by starving them. Is this a good, harmless thing since it protects human children or have robots evolved to be far more than just a machine?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Jack's wife Charlotte and daughter Amy are von Neumann-type humanoids. The vN were created by religious folk who thought it would be nice for the unsaved to have some helpers after being left behind. That's an original premise, albeit an unlikely one -- are believers in the rapture likely to devote resources to making the lives of "left behind" sinners more comfortable? Will the saved really provide the unsaved with humanoid sex partners as compensation for missing out on salvation? If you can suspend your disbelief of that premise, the offbeat story that follows is full of entertaining surprises.

A less original premise (thanks to Isaac Asimov) is that a vN can never harm a human; a failsafe causes the vN to suffer if it sees a human in pain. That premise is tested by Amy's grandmother (Portia) and other members of her clade, who seem perfectly content to cause havoc in the human population.

Amy engages in an act of humanoid cannibalism, busts out of jail, and watches a male vN give birth to a baby -- all in the first couple of chapters. Amy also contends with bounty hunters and rapidly emerging breasts while trying to ignore Portia's ever-present nagging voice, which she has internalized for reasons that are (like many of the novel's events) bizarre. The most significant addition to the cast is a vN named Javier who has a history of giving birth to children before abandoning them.

At times vN has the flavor of a comic book, complete with a super-powered heroine. There's also an element of silliness -- maybe you could call it playfulness -- that pervades the story. To some extent the story is a family drama, albeit one in which most members of the featured families (Amy's and Javier's) are mechanical. To some extent the novel is a love story.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Parenting as Programming
In the first chapter, a five-year-old child robot eats her estranged grandmother, python-style, and goes from kindergartner to adult in an instant from the additional biomass. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Eric J. Juneau
3.0 out of 5 stars Good premise, need a little more meat in the story.
While I enjoyed the premise and the characters were engaging, I felt something was missing. The backstory was not quote clear. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Bunny Liebowitz
1.0 out of 5 stars unable to finish it
I'm baffled by the positive reviews of this book. The writing is painfully bad. It reads like the work of a thirteen-year-old trying to be profound and edgy. Read more
Published 1 month ago by noappliances
4.0 out of 5 stars fairly interesting read
I liked it because it sounds like it can really happen. Because the details allowed me to see myself in the situations in the story. Read more
Published 1 month ago by C. Jerome Hammonds
4.0 out of 5 stars Madeline Ashby's vN - An Imaginative Novel of Robots, Control, Chaos...
A few things to know about Ms. Ashby - she's a flippin' genius, a marvelous storyteller and she's willing to pursue her ideas and stories without reference to niceties. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Joe Frazier
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun Ride
I'd give it 3.5 stars if I could. There were some good ideas in this book and it was a decent exploration of AI. But by the end I had no interest in going further. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Harry Hamilton
4.0 out of 5 stars Darkly satirical novel about sex, love, robots, and slavery
A pedophile preacher successfully develops a race of sentient humanoid robots, ostensibly built in order to aid and comfort the wicked people left behind after the coming Rapture. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Michael Lichter
4.0 out of 5 stars Sci-fi world full of allegories and self sacrifice, bad ending
While androids who live among humans, have something akin to asimov's laws of robotics , of even as substitutes for sinful pursuits are not new this particular world by Madeline... Read more
Published 2 months ago by K. Chang
5.0 out of 5 stars thought provoking
A very thorough and unexpected take on robotic life. And possibly the most brutally honest explanation yet for why humanoid robots would actually be created.
Published 2 months ago by klumsykat
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read
I was not expecting much from this book, but was pleasantly surprised. I would recommend this book to others that enjoy Science fiction.
Published 3 months ago by Edia E. Bedell
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More About the Author

Madeline Ashby was born in Panorama City, California in 1983. She is now a science fiction writer and strategic foresight consultant living in Toronto. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Escape Pod, and multiple anthologies. Her non-fiction has appeared at BoingBoing, WorldChanging, Creators Project, and As a futurist, she has worked for Intel, the Ontario government, and design and communications firms in Toronto. She loves anime, avocados, cats, Nine Inch Nails, and staying in.

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