Autonomous

Autonomous

Book - 2017
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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?
Publisher: New York : Tor, 2017
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780765392077
0765392070
Characteristics: 301 pages ; 22 cm

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JLMason
Jun 05, 2018

This book imagines a plausible future 125 years from now where there are trade zones (no countries), biotech is used to enhance mood and connect one’s brain to the “internet” through microscopic, airborne motes, indentured servitude of robots and people is common for those who can’t pay to be enfranchised, and large corporations brutally enforce intellectual property ownership. Well done and very intriguing. However, the characters are two-dimensional and we don’t care about them. The intimate relationship between the agent and his robot is unsettling (does the robot really have free will?), but this is not examined. Most of the action takes place in (former) Canadian cities including a thawed arctic and the denouement happens in Moose Jaw by way of Saskatoon. So overall a reasonably interesting story, but not high quality SciFi.

forbesrachel Apr 02, 2018

Newitz addresses quite a few modern issues in such a quick-paced, engaging story, including gender identity,the moral obligations of scientists, and whether healthcare is a right or a privilege. The dichotomous concepts of freedom and slavery are the core themes though, and are examined from quite a few different angles. On the freedom side there is intellectual freedom, legal freedom, individual freedom, and even a type of freedom that one can gain by working outside the rules. As for the other, the author depicts a world where big corporations maintain their "rule" by indenturing people in one way or another. The class divide that they have exasperated through the patent system is key to this, but we also learn more about the different types of enslavement through the characters. There are the humans like Threezed who were raised to be sold, the people who have taken Zacuity (a drug which purposefully addicts them to their work), and there are the indentured bots who must work off their cost to obtain freedom. The majority of the narrating duties are split between the pragmatic pirate Jack, whose morally questionable side-job allows her the chance to do good, and Paladin, a war bot who seeks to understand their burgeoning individuality and sexuality. Both are complex and fascinating from the moment we meet them. Other characters are not as well developed, but are given enough voice-time to understand. While the main cast get their happy endings (which does feel a little out a place, even though it ends in the way we hoped), Newitz leaves one unsettling thought... the matter of justice. As corporations become more powerful, and bind themselves closer to the state, will anyone be able to hold them accountable for their transgressions both accidental and intended? What would it mean for the world if individuals and groups could easily shackle Lady Justice? The brilliantly written Autonomous is a warning against such a world. Our freedom and rights and societal well-being are the cost when these entities are left unchecked and under-regulated.

SCL_Justin Mar 07, 2018

I really liked Autonomous' approach to problem-solving. The story starts off with a pharma-pirate named Jack realizing that she exposed a drug company's shoddy addictive drug that kills people and trying to clean up her mess. We're also following Paladin, a bot who has the task of cleaning up the mess for the powers that be.

While we're in Paladin's head the more compelling part of the story is about the relationship the bot has with the HumInt agent Paladin's partnered with. It's enough to make you forget you're empathizing with a tool of the Man (at least until the action scenes happen and you're very aware of how brutal a robot can be). The hard problem isn't the interrogations and air strikes, it's figuring out how a robot's sexuality might work.

With Jack we get more history and how she turned into a drug pirate in the free-patent revolution. She partners up with an indentured human and an emancipated robot not just to try escaping with her life but to make up for the deaths her involvement caused.

The two storylines give lots of room to explore the concept of owning information to sentience and is well worth the read.

JessicaGma Dec 14, 2017

I was going to add a comment here about how I enjoyed the book and such, but I now wish to read the book that PearlyBaker (who commented below) would write. I thought the premise was good with Jack being chased down by the corporation for IP stealing was great. A nice companion to this might be Walkaway by Cory Doctorow, where they too steal IP and provide goods for those who cannot afford them.

Beatricksy Dec 12, 2017

I was excited for this: drug pirates stealing formulas, duplicating them, and passing them out to the masses for enrichment. It sounded like the start of a really cool cyberpunky novel...but it went nowhere. It didn't properly explore its landscape, which is the bread and butter of SciFi. We didn't talk about how we'd reached this point, or what it meant for society in general. It was just a fact of life. The characters are flat, based purely upon their relationships. They don't seem to have any real personalities of their own beyond their sexual relations to each other. And the whole robot/human relationship was incredibly uncomfortable, with the way the agent mistreated Paladin. Mistreatment. A distinct lack of understanding for how robotics work despite it being basically his job, Paladin's distressing childlike innocence, the unnecessary pronoun swapping purely to make Elias happy since it's made abundantly clear that pronouns mean literally nothing to Paladin... It's not a story of LGBT empowerment as it seems to want to make you believe; it's weird and uncomfortable. It had some good ideas, and the discussion of robotic enslavement is fascinating, but there's so little to like in a book this long and meandering.

Michael Colford Sep 28, 2017

Annalee Newitz's debut novel, Autonomous, is a bit of a bait and switch. Newitz pits two forces against each other, both being fairly morally ambiguous. The year is 2144, and Jack is a pirate, basically a futuristic Robin Hood who fights against patent holders who make designer drugs that could help society impossibly expensive and unable for most people to obtain. Jack reverse engineers these corporate drugs and make street versions available to the public, acting as a great equalizer. But one of the drugs she reverse engineers starts killing people, she realizes that she must do something to both stop the spread of this drug, and also come up with a way to counteract the effects of bother her reverse engineered drug and the corporate drug that it was based on.

On her trail is law enforcement, who hold this piracy as the source of the problem, and send a team out to find and stop the pirates. Eliasz is a human officer, and his partner, Paladin, is a newly aware robot, military grade who is really just learning how to interact with humans. Their part of the story focuses both on their pursuit of Jack, and the developing relationship between the two.

Newitz creates a very plausible future world from strands of today's issues in bioengineering and copyright. While Jack is clearly breaking the law, and perhaps even occasionally making some bad decisions, her heart is clearly in the right place, and I read those around her as the "good guys." The problem is Paladin and by extension, Eliasz are just as much, if not more so, the protagonists of this story (as telegraphed by the title of the novel.) Therein lies my problem.

Paladin and to a far greater extent, Eliasz, are not very interesting characters, are much more hateful in their actions, and much more implausible in their discoveries. Yet by making the arguably the protagonists, Newitz expects us to care about them, and possibly even to root for them? While the novel didn't end as badly as I feared it might, it still lacked a certain satisfaction by focusing so much on the two less interesting characters. The bones of a great science fiction story are there, but the focus was too askew for me to enjoy it fully

p
PearlyBaker
Sep 25, 2017

There was a snitch from the Class of '87 who ruined and ended a 20 year tradition of students drinking on the Latin field trip. It's litcherally why I took Latin for this field trip of In Vinum es Veritas. My punishment during my 10 day suspension was to push mow a 6 acre lot that took me three days at which point I had to start over blisters be damned. Today I started work on my new farm which took me 8 hours to mow with a tractor. I'll get my technique down though. Anyway, I've been anticipating this book for over a year and pre-ordered the day it was available. I loved it but the drug they are on reminds me of me. I sat in inertia and depression for 3 years but big ups to Power Life Yoga who got me moving again and I have not stopped since. Once I get zeroed in on a project like my organic heirloom micro-farm I can't stop. Once my fingers hit the soil or the blade touches the grass I am engrossed and usually listening to an audio book thus killing two birds with one stone. Like in the book I do not hydrate enough and do not quit until it's too dark to work. This novel was incredible and probably close to accurate with singularity. However, I do think since we weaponize every new technology that it was mayhap a little soft and less dark than it might be. Like Sam Harris said this week, "We will only get one shot with Ai and we could become extinct if we do not do it correctly." I'm sure between Putin, Rocket Man, Isis, Xi Jinping and The Dotard it will be just fine. Oh and I hear the snitch is in to pegging these days and I am sure he is someone's confidential informant after getting busted with an 8 ball and a quarter pound of pharmaceutical grade amyl nitrate, but I judge no man. I sometimes think robots could do it all better anyway. We all help slow kill the earth and all her inhabitants with Dupont and Monsanto whose products and poisons we use everyday. I sure hope Annalee keeps writing fiction. It's like Robert Zimmerman said, "Someday, everything is gonna be different, when I paint my masterpiece. " This just might be it for her?

JohnK_KCMO Aug 15, 2017

Newitz's debut novel is action-packed, thought-provoking SF at its best! She tackles questions of identity, autonomy, gender, AI, biotechnology, corporate ethics, medical ethics, ecological collapse. But it's never unwieldy, never preachy, and her writing is confident, with an assured style and deep characterization. Highly recommended for long-time SF fans and new readers alike.

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