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Autonomous: A Novel Hardcover – September 19, 2017
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Pre-order today
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"Autonomous is to biotech and AI what Neuromancer was to the Internet."―Neal Stephenson
"Something genuinely and thrillingly new in the naturalistic, subjective, paradoxically humanistic but non-anthropomorphic depiction of bot-POV―and all in the service of vivid, solid storytelling."―William Gibson
"This book is a cyborg. Partly, it's a novel of ideas, about property, the very concept of it, and how our laws and systems about property shape class structure and society, as well as notions of identity, the self, bodies, autonomy at the most fundamental levels, all woven seamlessly into a dense mesh of impressive complexity. Don't let that fool you though. Because wrapped around that is the most badass exoskeleton--a thrilling and sexy story about pirates and their adventures. Newitz has fused these two layers together at the micro- and macro-levels with insight and wit and verbal flair. Moves fast, with frightening intelligence." ―Charles Yu, author of How to Live Sagfely in a Science Fictional Universe
"Annalee Newitz has conjured the rarest, most exciting thing: a future that's truly new ... a terrific novel and a tremendous vision." ―Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
"Holy hell. Autnomous is remarkable." ―Lauren Beukes, bestselling author of Broken Monsters
"Everything you'd hope for from the co-founder of io9 ... Combines the gonzo, corporatized future of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash with the weird sex of Charlie Stross's Saturn's Children; throws in an action hero that's a biohacker version of Bruce Sterling's Leggy Starlitz, and then saturates it with decades of deep involvement with free software hackers, pop culture, and the leading edge of human sexuality." ―Cory Doctorow, New York Times bestselling author of Walkaway.
More praise for Scatter, Adapt, and Remember:
"Fascinating.... [Newitz is] an excellent writer, with an effortless style.... The inner science geek in all of us will uncover some really cool stuff.... A terrific book that covers an astounding amount of ground in a manageable 300 pages... You will be smarter for it."
―San Francisco Chronicle
"An enormous amount of knowledge is gathered here, and the book accomplishes something almost impossible, being extremely interesting on every single page. A real pleasure to read and think about." ―Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the Mars trilogy
"A refreshingly optimistic and well thought out dissection of that perennial worry: the coming apocalypse. While everyone else stridently shouts about the end of days, this book asks and answers a simple question: ‘If it’s so bad, then why are we still alive?’... Newitz inspires us with engaging arguments that our race will keep reaching the end of the world and then keep living through it. Scatter, Adapt, and Remember intimately acquaints the reader with our two-hundred-thousand-year tradition of survival―nothing less than our shared heritage as human beings."―Daniel H. Wilson, author of Robopocalypse and Amped
About the Author
Annalee Newitz is an American journalist, editor, and author of both fiction and nonfiction. She is the recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship from MIT, and has written for Popular Science, Wired, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She also founded the science fiction website io9 and served as Editor-in-Chief from 2008–2015, and subsequently edited Gizmodo. As of 2016, she is Tech Culture Editor at the technology site Ars Technica. Autonomous is Annalee's first novel.
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Jack has decided to try to find a cure for this addiction. At the same time, she's being hunted by a government agent and his robot companion whose job it is to kill her for patent infringement. Jack enlists the help of a former lover and co-pirate who has gone 'straight' and now runs a legal lab. She has also acquired a human slave, because while slavery is technically illegal, lifetime 'indentures' are not.
The other half of this story is the tale of that agent and his bot, who develop a very strange sexual relationship, given that the robot is made of metal, has no genitalia and is described as only marginally humanoid. Bots have human brains and are the property of their builders (in this case the military) until they can earn enough money to 'buy' their freedom.
OK, so I've just scratched the surface of the story, and really that's the problem I have with it. There's just too much going on here. It jumps around between the two stories but never gets deeply enough into either one to make sense. None of the characters are fleshed out enough to be sympathetic. Everyone is primarily interested in having sex (same-sex relationships, cross-sex relationships, master-slave relationships, and human-machine relationships) and the relationships themselves don't seem to make a lot of sense. Some of it is over the line into 'this is just creepy', like the scene in which the human climbs on the robot's back and becomes aroused by shooting the guns embedded in its arms. I'm not a prude, but this made even me think, 'eeeeewwww'.
This could really have been a couple of books. The world-building needs a lot of fleshing out and the stories themselves need to concentrate more on character-building than on casual sex. As it stands, it just didn't 'click' for me.
Jack is a pirate, but not the kind that has a hook for a hand, sails on a ship that flies the skull and crossbones, or is Johnny Depp. Rather she is a humanitarian pirate, one who is attempting, in her own way, to take down big pharma. She sells recreational and other fun drugs to raise money for her real cause: reverse engineering drugs that will help humanity. But as we all know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Jack reverse engineers a drug called Zacuity. Zacuity is a productivity drug, intended to help the people who take it, under controlled circumstances, become more focused and well, get more work done. The key phrase is "under controlled circumstances". Jack unleashes the reverse engineered drug on to the populace, and those who take it become addicted to it, to the point of focusing on tasks so intensely that many die because they don't eat, sleep, or do anything else that a person needs to do to survive.
Meanwhile, the IPC has traced the drug back to Jack. Newly awakenedd bot Paladin is teamed up with an IPC agent named Eliasz, and the pair go in search of Jack in order to bring her to justice. Jack, on her part, is desperately trying to find a drug that will cure the addiction and stop people from dying. She discovers that Zacuity, in fact, *is* addicting, and that the corporation that is marketing it did not perform sufficient testing to determine any nasty side effects. In effect, Jack perfectly reversed engineered the drug, and now she has to not only fix the problem she caused but try to take down the manufacturer in the process.
The novel, then, on the surface looks to be a standard, run-of-the-mill crime story, with the possible twist that the well-intentioned pirate may actually win the day and take down the big, bad, nasty pharmaceutical corporation in the process. Of course, things aren't that simple. And in fact, that particular story line is just a small part of what Newitz is doing here.
Bots, and some humans are born into indentured servitude, and must earn their way out. Humans also can voluntarily enter into this indentured life style because they don't have much choice. Paladin is an indentured bot, for example. Newitz explores the implications of this system and what it means to society. Newitz is also exploring the nature of sexuality and gender fluidity and the ability to make choices. Bots, for example, are generally considered male, and Paladin is presented with a choice she's never had before, a choice bots don't generally get to make.
Relationships and characters are explored in detail as well. Eliasz and Paladin develop a romantic relationship; we learn about Jack's past relationships and how her character developed to get to where it is at the time of the novel and *why* it developed the way it did. The bottom line here is that this is a very complex, layered novel that may be an adventure crime story on the surface but is really much much more than that by the time it is over.
Newitz also doesn't present any easy answers, doesn't tie anything up in a nice little bow for the characters or the reader. Life is dirty and messy, and the reality is that things rarely turn out such that people live happily ever after, and the big bad corporations rarely get their comeuppance.
AUTONOMOUS is a complex, involved, and many layered novel with engaging characters and terrifically written. Since I began this review earlier today, the 2018 Hugo finalists were announced, and AUTONOMOUS did not make the cut for Best Novel. It is a strong novel and deserved to be on that list. It certainly deserves your consideration the next time you're looking for something to read.