Friday, March 9, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Freedom and Autonomy in a Robotic World

Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz (Tor)

My quick take on this book is “feminist anarchist new-wave cyberpunk,” but that doesn’t do it justice by a long shot. In a world dominated by pharmaceutical companies, illegally reverse-engineered drugs offer the only hope to the poor. But when her attention-focusing drug creates lethal obsession, rogue scientist Jack desperately tries to get her pirated version off the streets. That’s half the story and I was already hooked (scientist heroes, check; women scientist heroes, double-check). The second half of the story centers around the private military team (human Eliasz and robot-with-human-brain Paladin) dispatched to apprehend Jack. That’s where things get really interesting, because in this dystopic world, robots are chattel and sometimes so are people. Both can earn their freedom, but what does that really mean?

Once bots gained human rights, a wave of legislation swept through many governments … became known as the Human Rights Indenture Laws. They established the rights of indentured robots, and, after a decade of court battles established the rights of humans to become indentured, too. After all, if human-equivalent beings could be indentured, why not humans themselves?

“For bots, industry always precedes autonomy,” explained a final string of text.

Legal autonomy, emotional independence, freedom from obsession and pharmaceutical control of mood, thought, and desire? Newitz deftly blends the themes and resonances into a dramatic story that feels refreshingly current and yet fits easily within the genre. I look forward to her next work.

The usual disclaimer: I received a complimentary review copy of this book through NetGalley, and nobody paid me to hold my own opinions about it.

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