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vN (Machine Dynasty Book 1) Kindle Edition
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|Length: 416 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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- Book 1 of 3 in Machine Dynasty
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– 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..."
“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
Author hometown: Toronto
--This text refers to the mass_market edition.
- File Size : 1095 KB
- Print Length : 416 pages
- Publisher : Angry Robot (July 31, 2012)
- Publication Date : July 31, 2012
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B0076Q1J60
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #390,117 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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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. All vN are equipped with a "failsafe" that prevents them from harming humans and, consistent with Asimov's famous three laws ( I, Robot ), requires them to protect humans from harm. When this killer robot turns out to be Amy's grandmother, and when humans begin to suspect that Amy and her mother may share grandma's flaw, things do not look good for Amy.
But, as Ashby continually reminds us -- without directly saying so -- what's really wrong is not that there's a robot -- or even a few robots -- out there who can defy humans, it's rather that humans are so *inhumane* in their views and their treatment of these sentient beings that live and work among them. Some reviewers have suggested that Asby uses vN as a stand-in for racial/ethnic minorities or other marginalized groups. I don't think that's the case; the kind of exploitation and maltreatment that concerns Ashby is universal.
So ... This is not a book for kids; there's too much ugly violence, especially (implied) sexual violence. It's not laugh-out-loud funny. It's not really a thriller, although there are some chases, escapes, and close encounters with death. Perhaps it's a mystery, but the mystery is mostly whether or not humans can love robots, robots can love humans, robots can love robots, or anybody can love themselves (in a non-narcissistic way), whether sex is (only) about selfish pleasure, and whether we can have non-exploitative relationships with others, especially those who are not quite like us.
Others have complained about deficiencies in the novel -- which is, after all, a first novel. There are some puzzling moments, and when you step back you have to ask "But why did it happen this way?" or "Why didn't that happen?" It's also a bit annoying that Ashby makes so many references that will be obscure to many readers; e.g., if you haven't read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? you're going to be clueless about why the vN restaurant chain is called "Electric Sheep," and if you haven't seen Blade Runner , you're not going to know why it features a drink called "Tears in Rain." I think these are minor problems, and while they bugged me a little during my read, I found reading vN well worth the time and effort. Recommended.
In the novel of the same name, a vN (short for von Neumann) is a synthetic person. They look like humans, they eat food to sustain themselves, they grow, and they reproduce. They even have human-like emotional responses. At least, they appear to. Maybe they're just programmed that way? Much of the drama of the book hinges on that question.
In many ways, a vN is more like an alternative life form than a machine. From the very first page we see a vN in a "romantic" relationship with a human. In a family, in fact. What an idea! The line between organic and synthetic life is often blurred in fiction, but Ashby's great innovation was to nearly obliterated it.
A vN is not completely free from their machine heritage, however. To make them safe companions for humanity, their creators included a "failsafe." If a vN sees a human in pain, their systems will begin to shut down. This is such common knowledge that violent films even have vN warnings.
But not so fast! The novel's main character, a vN named Amy, seems to lack this failsafe feature. Is it a glitch? A design hack? Whatever the reason, Amy is of intense interest to all sides. Breakneck adventure ensues.
The plot moves fast and keeps you turning the pages. The world of the vN is nicely described and detailed. You really feel like you've lived there by the end of the book.
That ending, though, was a problem for me. It just came out of nowhere, resolving several running conflicts in one fell swoop. I don't want to give it away, but I think it's fair to call it a Deus ex Machina. Altogether, though, it's a small complaint for such an original and innovative science fiction adventure.
Rating: 4.25 stars
Length: 100,000 words
Violence: Some. Not enough to make you failsafe
Top reviews from other countries
If you like your SF mixed up with philosophy (not only 'what it means to be human' but what constitutes 'family' in the modern world and even what 'love' might be), this novel's for you. What you also get is action, repurposed horror movie memes and even a family saga. Sometimes it feels as if the whole thing might implode on itself in a conflagration of over-ambition, but there's something going on here that's truly fascinating.
This is a constant theme through out the book. The discription of the areas they were in were lacking, and disjointed, for example, a scene would open explaining they where in a large building, as they traveled through the building you felt like you had missed a page or two as the scene changed. They had arrived at the building, no description of them entering it, but they suddenly on a bridge then the next thing they are in the ocean. What happened to the building? where did the bridge come from?
On the plus side I loved Amy, Javier, and Junior, Grandma was totaly nasty and you really wanted to see her get her come-uppance. It had its sad points and its exciting points. Over all I gave this book three stars maily due to its vagueness, and waiting for something to happen.
I will probably read the next book with a view of hoping that it is a better book
Most of the best ideas come in Book I, while Books II and III finish the stories and tie up most of the loose ends.
A consideration of what it means to be human and how Aasimov's Three Laws of Robotics might actually play out.
Worth reading all three books.
Amy goes on the run. Amy gets attacked. Amy fights back. Amy gets captured. Amy gets rescued. Loop.
That's somewhat unfair of me, but at one level, that's mostly what happens. She regenerates after injury, which happens a lot. She acquires traits of other robots she eats. She ought to be invincible, and sometimes, when it suits the plot, she is. Other times, she's inexplicably weak, gets captured. Whenever she's about to be eaten, Javier rescues her, even if he appears to have abandoned her / been captured himself. No explanation, just rabbits popping out of hats.
At another level, there's the concept of the self-replicating robot, the failsafe (aka Asimov's 3 laws), the dual vN-human culture, some interesting world building.
In the end, I never built up much sympathy for Amy. For all her power, she is tossed about by events, and reacts rather than initiates. The last 40 pages were a high speed dash for the finish.