vN: The First Machine Dynasty by Madeline Ashby

January 15, 2013 Reviews 3 ★★★★★

  • Date published: 31st July 2012
  • Publisher: Angry Robot
  • Format: Ebook, 449 pages
  • Series: The Machine Dynasty, Book 1
  • ISBN 13: 9780857662637 ISBN 10: 0857662635
  • Categories: Science Fiction
  • Goodreads / The Book Depository / Booktopia
  • Source: provided for review by publisher

Amy Peterson is a self-replicating humanoid robot.

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, little 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 the failsafe that stops all robots from harming humans has failed… Which means that everyone wants a piece of her, some to use her as a weapon, others to destroy her.

Reminiscent of Asimov but entirely new in the way it handles the idea of intelligent, artificial life, vN explores the lives future synthetic beings can expect to live. Like Asimov’s robots, Ashby’s vN (von-Neumann humanoid robots) are subject to a failsafe: witnessing human pain can result in sever malfunctions, or death. And like Asimov, Ashby shows us how terrible this fate can be.

After a violent attack at Amy’s kindergarten graduation at the hands of her grandmother, whom she eats in defence of her mother, and the death of a human student, Amy is locked up and taken away by human authorities for testing. Her jail-break with Javier causes country wide unrest, and all vN of her model are recalled for quarantine until tests can be administrated. On the run, confused, and with her grandmother’s voice haunting her and urging her to kill(her grandmother’s memory has been integrated into her own), Amy vows to find out why she’s not like other vN, and rescue her parents from imprisonment.

Amy is a refreshingly original character whom I instantly liked. She’s not whiny, she takes things into stride, and she never loses sight of her goal to be reunited with her parents. However, she’s not stubborn about her goals either, and takes note of good advice when it is offered. I also liked Javier, even though he is so different and honestly, scared me a little because of his otherness. On the other hand I despised Amy’s grandmother Portia, because of her callousness, but after a while felt supremely sorry or her, because she is a victim too, a product of her world.

Until I met Javier I was reading Amy as a normal vN, perhaps with a few more human tendencies than most vN because of her upbringing and family life. But Ashby cleverly uses Javier, a vN who has never lived with humans, to show readers how unique and special Amy really is. One of the most poignant scenes is when Amy realises that vN who malfunction are thrown into the garbage, after coming across lots of newly iterated vN who malfunctioned in a dump. She exclaims that human children who died soon after birth would never be thrown into the garbage, and Javier replies of course not, but is perplexed why Amy is so moved by the discovery.

I love the world-building, because it comes with a history that I found terrifyingly viable: vN were created by churches who thought the Rapture was coming, and wanted to leave behind companions and help-mates for those humans who were left behind on earth. vN were made to fulfil specific needs and self-replicate when enough food was available. When no Rapture came, vN were used for menial labour, either cheaply or for free, and are now maids, mistresses, and labourers. Some humans use them for other purposes however, and pedophilia pops up peripherally in the story.

vN is an exciting, refreshing book that I liked, and I was surprised to find out that it is Madeline Ashby’s debut novel. It’s a terrific accomplishment and I look forward to reading more of her books in the future, especially the rest of The Machine Dynasty series.

3 Responses to “vN: The First Machine Dynasty by Madeline Ashby”

  1. Micheline (@MissMimz)

    This sounds really compelling!! I love the sci-fi feel of artificial intelligence meshed in with humans…and the world building sounds believable and really well done! Awesome review Shaheen!

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