Autonomous, Annalee Newitz Book Review

Hello humans! Back for another book review are we? Today’s review is a little confusing for me. My reading schedule is totally out of the window at the moment and it’s forcing me to read a lot of the ARC’s that have been sitting on my TBR for a while. Autonomous was one such ARC. I’m torn because I want to say that I absolutely adored this book and that it’s such a great exploration of a lot of interesting ideas, but there’s some elements that just annoyed me so I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it 100%. But the world isn’t divided into the good (books) and the bad (books) so hopefully I’ll be able to semi-clearly articulate my feelings here.

Goodreads Summary:

Autonomous features a rakish female pharmaceutical pirate named Jack who traverses the world in her own submarine. A notorious anti-patent scientist who has styled herself as a Robin Hood heroine fighting to bring cheap drugs to the poor, Jack’s latest drug is leaving a trail of lethal overdoses across what used to be North America—a drug that compels people to become addicted to their work.

On Jack’s trail are an unlikely pair: an emotionally shut-down military agent and his partner, Paladin, a young military robot, who fall in love against all expectations. Autonomous alternates between the activities of Jack and her co-conspirators, and Joe and Paladin, as they all race to stop a bizarre drug epidemic that is tearing apart lives, causing trains to crash, and flooding New York City.

Which sounds phenomenal…does it not?

The summary of this book doesn’t convey the ethical issues this book is delving into. This is one of the perfect examples of using science fiction to explore issues in the real world (another good example would be Infinity Wars).  I think getting people to engage in discussions of personhood, of autonomy, modern slavery and also the ethics of patents (particularly where pharmaceuticals are concerned).

Side bar: Did you know that the woman who invented the fidget spinner couldn’t file a patent for it because she didn’t have the requisite $400 so the idea initially didn’t take off and then people just manufactured billions of them and she didn’t get a cent. That’s awful. It makes me sad…and I don’t even like fidget spinners. End of side bar.

This book has the detailed nature of a comprehensive science fiction setting down. From clothing, to road surfaces, to computer designed tattoos this is a future you can see yourself living in – for reference it’s set about 120 years from now. There’s some gorgeous descriptive writing in here, I’d love to see the concept art for some kind of hand drawn animation of this book, or maybe a graphic novel? It’s just got that well-thought out essence that can transport you completely into a setting.

I also found myself very enamoured with the characters. There are so many amazing characters in this book. Jack herself made me so happy, she’s a wonderfully complex character whose personality you can never quite work out. That’s perhaps what’s so great about these characters, it’s hard to say whether anyone in particular could be called ‘good’ or ‘evil’ in the same way that you can in a lot of books I have read recently. This is a good thing, and it’s a realistic look at a lot of the ethical issues this book tackles.

The one time it really bugged me, so much that I had to deduct a star, was when one character is overtly homophobic and it is just never addressed. It’s brought up a few times, but he’s never called out. It bothered me mainly because the rest of the book was quite good at representing people of different sexualities and genders.  I think it’s realistic to recognise those people exist (I’ll be annoyed if they do still exist in 120 years) but it was odd that it never got called out. Perhaps adding to that ‘nobody’s perfect’ narrative that’s going on. Anyway, it made me a little uncomfortable and it may do the same for you – we all interpret things differently.

Essentially, this is one of the most refreshingly interesting books I have read in 2017. I think it engages with a lot of different issues, some of which I haven’t seen approached in such an effective way before. It’s wonderful writing, a wonderful setting and it’s so close to being absolutely wonderful in my eyes.

My rating: 4/5 stars

Autonomous is available now.

By the way, I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

What say you? Is this something you’re interested in? Already read it? Let me know in the comments below!



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