VN Madeline Ashby

March 15, 2013 - 2:54 pm No Comments

vN: The First Machine Dynasty
Author: Madeline Ashby
Publisher: Angry Robot
Page count/size: 332pp
Release Date: 29 July 2012
Reviewer: Steve Jones

vNs are humanoid robots created by a religious sect to be companions for the unfortunate humans left behind after The Rapture which never happened. When the cult collapses in a storm of abuse allegations the vNs are left to survive in a mostly uncaring world. vN is derived from von Neumann machine as they can reproduce by iteration, which leads to a generational divide as each iteration is supposedly better than its predecessor. A “failsafe” disables vNs if they are violent to humans or even see a human get hurt.

Amy is the sole iteration of Charlotte who lives with her human husband Jack. Amy is kept small by her parents restricting her diet so that she grows at the same rate as organic children. This leaves Amy permanently hungry so, when her grandmother Portia attacks the school she attends and kills a human child, Amy kills Portia by eating her alive. This rouses human suspicions that the failsafe has been disabled in her entire clade of vNs. She is taken away in a big white van (labelled “Isaac’s Electronics”!) and escapes with Javier, a serial iterator (he constantly creates and abandons immature vNs).

This book takes a different take on the development of robots from the usual “Destroy all humans” and “Become more human” cliches where the robots are just a reflection of our own fears and desires. Jack’s attempts to raise Amy as a human child turn out to be well-meaning but seriously misguided. The vNs need to find their own answers to getting along with humans and their own kind.

There are a few flaws. Amy’s escape from the scientists who try to dismantle her seems too easy, and does not lead to the total human paranoia about killer robots I would expect. The back of the book lists four titles which sound like a series of books but instead describe the four sections of this book, while not matching the fourteen chapter headings. Maybe this book was written as four novellas which were combined into a single book.

All in all, 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.

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