Book Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
“The key to autonomy, she realized, was more than root access on the programs that shaped her desires. It was a sense of privacy.”
In exploring the limits—natural and imposed—on robotic autonomy, Newitz directs us to consider what limits and expands human independence and the value of human life. Any book which makes us think deserves extra attention. Autonomous comes packaged in good story telling and many well-developed characters—bot and otherwise. Multiple folded time lines.
“He’d asked Paladin whether he should call her ‘she.’ It’s true that he was asking the wrong question, but if she listened to the words behind the words … he was asking her consent.”
Comparisons with Martha Wells’ murderbot series are inevitable. Very different approaches. I like Murderbot better because it respects the reader more, and is laced with self-depreciating humor. Your mileage may vary.
“Humans, you know—they hate us for the indenture laws. Without bot indenture, there would be no human indenture. Human think bots deserve to be indentured, while humans deserve to be autonomous.”
Unfortunately, the story is also laced with soft porn and foul language. Sure, that’s how the immature talk, but it isn’t necessary to wallow in it.
“Everybody is an outsider, if you go deep enough. The trick is reassuring people that you’re their kind of outsider. Just figure out a way to share their problems” * (“I feel your pain.”)
Quibble: “Atop these desks were several servers and projectors, a chip printer, some fabbers, and a high-powered microscope box for imaging atoms.” Even in a science fiction future, this seems rather much to be cluttered atop a couple desks. (Which was the point.)
“I’m never going to stop making open drugs, sequence wants to be free.”
Newitz changes the gender of one character mid-story (for well explained reasons), but perhaps inadvertently she depicts that much gender identity in in the mind of others, out of control of the self.
“The bot had no choice but to fight for his life. Still, to Paladin, it didn’t feel like a lack of choice. It felt like hope.”