Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Really interesting cover. I love it!

I heard a little hype about this book on twitter, and couldn’t help myself when it popped up on NetGalley. It sounded absolutely intriguing. I’m no stranger to sci-fi, and also no stranger to books involving robots, but this one seemed unique.

So, many thanks to Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley for this book.

Earth, 2144. Jack is an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, traversing the world in a submarine as a pharmaceutical Robin Hood, fabricating cheap scrips for poor people who cant otherwise afford them. But her latest drug hack has left a trail of lethal overdoses as people become addicted to their work, doing repetitive tasks until they become unsafe or insane.Hot on her trail, an unlikely pair: Eliasz, a brooding military agent, and his robotic partner, Paladin. As they race to stop information about the sinister origins of Jacks drug from getting out, they begin to form an uncommonly close bond that neither of them fully understand.And underlying it all is one fundamental question: Is freedom possible in a culture where everything, even people, can be owned?

Paladin used millions of lines of code to keep his balance as he slid-walked up a slope of fine grains molded into ripples by wind.

The first thing that intrigued me about this book upon actually starting it and getting a good 10% or so into it is that it takes place largely in Canada (or what is… sort of left of Canada, in terms of territory being owned by corps and not countries). The first good chunk of this story happens in Nunavut, of all places, in the pretty sizable city of Iqaluit. Now… present day Iqaluit is the capital of Nunavut, but it’s ahh… it’s not really very big, lol. Its population is about 7500. That’s 10k less than that of my hometown, a small, mostly rural Ontario town. So, I’m intrigued first of all that in the year 2144, we still have Iqaluit at all, and that climate change hasn’t erased it (and let’s be honest, most of Canada) from the Earth, but also that we’ve made it an interesting technology-driven city. This is what caught my interest, anyway!

Most of this world is controlled by corporations, and we have both human and robots who are indentured to these companies and can ‘earn’ their way into autonomy. As you can imagine, the world of the future has drugs for just about anything you can possibly think of, but drug patents and so on prevent most of the good stuff from being available to people who aren’t unbelievably rich. Stuff like the drugs that keep you young.

Enter Jack, the drug pirate, who sells reverse engineered drugs to the masses for far cheaper than the big pharma companies sell them for. She’s distributed one such drug, a knockoff of the drug Zacuity, a drug used to make work more desirable, to the masses, but what she didn’t realize was that Zacuity is really, really addictive. So people are dying of dehydration because they’d rather do homework than drink. They’d rather paint the house than eat. They’d rather work on insurance claims than sleep. That sort of thing.

Enter Eliasz and Paladin. They are agents of the African Federation’s International Property Coalition. They’re looking for Jack to bring her to justice, and they’re hot on her trail. Paladin is a brand new, bulky, gun-filled, indentured military bot, and Eliasz is an autonomous human male. Despite their obvious differences, Eliasz finds himself attracted to Paladin, and Paladin, who can see how Eliasz is reacting to him physically, starts very curiously learning about human sexuality when he has an opportunity.

The whole subplot regarding the relationship between Eliasz and Paladin was… bizarre and sort of maddening, in a way. I won’t go into details, because I don’t want to be spoilery, a lot of details surrounding the whole relationship between Eliasz and Paladin made my eyes roll really hard.

That aside, I thought the book was okay. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t too bad. The prose was really great in parts, but it felt really, really long sometimes. The plot kind of plodded along to get where it was going at times, and I wish we had a tad more back story so that I could understand how we ended up building giant awesome cities in the frozen north since that is what intrigued me at first. But, all told, I thought it was an alright read. Certainly good enough to finish it, even if most of the Eliasz/Paladin situation made me roll my eyes so hard I think I saw my brain.

I doubt I could live here, but damned if I wouldn’t try!

So, an interesting sci-fi romp through future Canada and future Morocco, with some big pharma beating genetic engineering happening. Not bad! 3/5 stars!


Thanks again to Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley for the advanced copy of this book.

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