Speculating on SpecFic

Fantastic Literature: From epic fantasy to fairytales to myth-making

vN - Madeline Ashby Reminiscent of Asimov but entirely new in the way it handles the idea of intelligent, artificial life, vN explores the lives future synthetic beings can expect to live. Like Asimov’s robots, Ashby’s vN (von-Neumann humanoid robots) are subject to a failsafe: witnessing human pain can result in sever malfunctions, or death. And like Asimov, Ashby shows us how terrible this fate can be.After a violent attack at Amy’s kindergarten graduation at the hands of her grandmother, whom she eats in defence of her mother, and the death of a human student, Amy is locked up and taken away by human authorities for testing. Her jail-break with Javier causes country wide unrest, and all vN of her model are recalled for quarantine until tests can be administrated. On the run, confused, and with her grandmother’s voice haunting her and urging her to kill(her grandmother’s memory has been integrated into her own), Amy vows to find out why she’s not like other vN, and rescue her parents from imprisonment.Amy is a refreshingly original character whom I instantly liked. She’s not whiny, she takes things into stride, and she never loses sight of her goal to be reunited with her parents. However, she’s not stubborn about her goals either, and takes note of good advice when it is offered. I also liked Javier, even though he is so different and honestly, scared me a little because of his otherness. On the other hand I despised Amy’s grandmother Portia, because of her callousness, but after a while felt supremely sorry or her, because she is a victim too, a product of her world.Until I met Javier I was reading Amy as a normal vN, perhaps with a few more human tendencies than most vN because of her upbringing and family life. But Ashby cleverly uses Javier, a vN who has never lived with humans, to show readers how unique and special Amy really is. One of the most poignant scenes is when Amy realises that vN who malfunction are thrown into the garbage, after coming across lots of newly iterated vN who malfunctioned in a dump. She exclaims that human children who died soon after birth would never be thrown into the garbage, and Javier replies of course not, but is perplexed why Amy is so moved by the discovery.I love the world-building, because it comes with a history that I found terrifyingly viable: vN were created by churches who thought the Rapture was coming, and wanted to leave behind companions and help-mates for those humans who were left behind on earth. vN were made to fulfil specific needs and self-replicate when enough food was available. When no Rapture came, vN were used for menial labour, either cheaply or for free, and are now maids, mistresses, and labourers. Some humans use them for other purposes however, and pedophilia pops up peripherally in the story.vN is an exciting, refreshing book that I liked, and I was surprised to find out that it is Madeline Ashby’s debut novel. It’s a terrific accomplishment and I look forward to reading more of her books in the future, especially the rest of The Machine Dynasty series.A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.