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In Annalee Newitz's Autonomous, we see the future of 2144 and what happens when drug patents never run out and the concept of selling people into slavery was brought back into fashion after corporations wanted to create sentient bots without losing their investment.
On one hand you have the story of Jack Chen, a drug pirate trying to fight a disastrous epidemic caused by a pharma giant's newest productivity booster that she reverse-engineered and sold on the streets. She's joined by a runaway human slave who's been treated like a robot his whole life and an autonomous robot doctor who's been treated like a human her whole life.
And on the other hand (there are a lot of hands in this book, literally), you have a human agent of the International Property Coalition and his endentured bot partner whose mission is to find Jack and take her out at any cost. The bot is just starting its life and learns a lot about bots, humans, autonomy, sex, and gender.
Autonomous creates an interesting future world that is relatable enough to our world that you might be able to see it in the distance, while exploring a lot of things I had never seen done before. It combines multiple forms of slavery with a realistic depiction of artificial lifeforms and their integration into society. It features a future that is generally more accepting of differences, while still not getting rid of the old prejudices entirely (and inventing a few new ones for good measure). It shows future drugs that chill me just to think of. There are a lot of new concepts but all are worked together in a smooth and believable fashion; Newitz's strong background in both science fiction and technology really shines through here.
Jennifer Ikeda does a great job with the narration, not all voices are extremely different from one another, but the differences are there when you need them. Robots sound monotonous or emotional as appropriate and a few different characters have distinct accents.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
Newitz's vision of the future is impeccably grounded in the tech world she has lived and written about for years. She naturally extends patent law and intellectual property laws to a logical extreme, and grounds it in the relevant now of health-care and pharmaceutical politics. Her characters are inclusive and relatable across a wide spectrum of the human experience, and the overall shape of the book leaves both the protagonists and their opponents in a far more human state - the book ends in a gray area.
Like many works of Cyberpunk before it, Autonomous hits a little too close to home. I wouldn't have it any other way.
A note on Jennifer Ikeda's performance: it was overall very good, but lacked the flair necessary to make it a truly outstanding reading.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful