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Vn Paperback – July 31, 2012

3.6 out of 5 stars 96 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Machine Dynasty Series

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"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

“If you have been missing the kind of thought-provoking-yet-exciting stories about artificial creatures that only come along once in a while, vN is well worth grabbing. It's disturbing and sometimes upsetting — but the ending is a giant insane weird thrill that makes the whole thing pay off.”
—Charlie Jane Andres for io9.com

"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 fuses cyberpunk with urban fantasy to produce something wholly new.  Thre's a heavy kicker in every chapter.  Zombie robots, vampire robots, robots as strange and gnarly as human beings.  A page-turning treat."- Rudy Rucker, author of the WARE TETRALOGY

"Ashby's debut novel is brimming with ideas..."
-SFX Magazine


vN is a thrilling adventure story with a well-developed cast of both humans and vNs, which challenges the meaning of being a person without ever being preachy about it.”
-Steve Jones, Terror Tree

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 honors 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. She has been published in Tesseracts, Flurb, Nature, Escape Pod and elsewhere. Currently, she works as a strategic foresight consultant in Toronto.
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Product Details

  • Series: First Machine Dynasty (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Angry Robot (2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780857662620
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857662620
  • ASIN: 0857662627
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #840,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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. What could possibly go wrong?

Robots in Madeline Ashby's near-future world are called "vN" after John von Neumann, the Jewish-Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, and all-around genius who, among other things, laid the groundwork for virtually all computers in use today (they're called "von Neumann machines" for a reason) and also developed a theory of self-replicating machines, which, by the way, the vN are. Self-replicating, that is. Given enough "food" -- plastic, iron, and other minerals -- they not only grow like organic beings, they also reproduce through a form of asexual budding. It's a cool idea, though Ashby never explains how or whether the vN's self-replication mechanism is based on von Neumann's theory.

Once the vN technology goes to market, vNs appear everywhere in roles such as laborer, servitor, and, inevitably, prostitute. But vNs are smart, self-aware, learning machines with the capacity to detect, understand, and even feel -- or at least simulate -- human emotion. They become girlfriends and boyfriends and husbands and wives of humans, and, when vNs "iterate" (reproduce), their "children" become family members. The children can even look like human children as long as they're kept on a near-starvation diet. One of those children is Amy, a kindergartner whose vN mother and human father struggle to give a normal, suburban, middle-class, human upbringing.

This does not turn out as well as hoped. Something does go very wrong when an out-of-control robot kills a human child.
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