BOOK REVIEW: VN By Madeline Ashby

Amy Peterson is a von Neumann machine, a self-replicating humanoid robot.
For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother’s past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, little Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.
Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she’s learning impossible things about her clade’s history – like the fact that the failsafe that stops all robots from harming humans has failed… Which means that everyone wants a piece of her, some to use her as a weapon, others to destroy her.

Isaac Asimov wrote the three laws of robotics in a short story called “Runaround” and later introduced a master law over the first three.  Many writers automatically include the first three laws in their tales of androids, after all who would create artificial humans who are stronger, faster and smarter than their creators, without curbing them somehow?  Most authors never consider that the laws of evolution have been shown to work with everything they’ve been applied to to date.

In VN by Madeline Ashby does address some of the issues that might come about if we ever do build our own reproducing androids that are bound by similar laws. What sort of foodstuffs would these creatures consume? How would they reproduce? Would they be created male and female and would they need to have sex? What sort of programming could be included in them? And perhaps most importantly, what would they be used for?

Most might be given the dangerous, repetitive, boring jobs that we wouldn’t want to do, cleaning sewers, replanting forests, fishing, farming, mining deep in the earth, even monitoring the insides of nuclear fission plants. But not all uses would be so noble and serving. Paedophiles might have their own robotic children, removing the threat to flesh ones. Violent men could have artificial partners, who wouldn’t usually be seriously damaged by them, and even if they were, they are artificial and might be repaired easier than flesh and blood ones. Women could have pliant sexual partners and men could have willing ones. Androids could be essentially slaves, unless partnered by humans with the empathy needed to recognise these beings as feeling and knowing individuals. And because of the failsafe included in their flesh, no one robot would ever be able to refuse a human.

Doctors would of course have to be human, as an android would be unable to cut a living human. But nurses, stuck with the drudgery of caring for the sick and dying, however altruistic and necessary could be replaced, if the controls preventing these creatures from always doing what they are told by any human were weakened slightly. And what happens if evolution then takes control?

Amy Peterson is the child of a mixed organic/synthetic family. Normally androids grow to full size in a few years, but Amy has been kept small, by starving her of the nutrients she would need to reach her full size. The choice to keep her small was mostly her mother’s, who wanted her to have a more human upbringing, although her father is beginning to be suspected of having the wrong tendencies. Amy is always hungry, and when her malfunctioning grandmother appears and starts killing humans, Amy does the only thing she can think of, she eats granny. Now she has granny in her memory, trying to take her over, and she learns that the failsafe that stops robots from harming humans has failed in some, and that she carries the trait. Can Amy escape from those who want to destroy her as well as those who want to use her?

This is an excellent book, carefully thought out, in a world that could be our future with only a few technological breakthroughs. The plot is believable and gripping, with a surprising ending. It was impossible to put down.

GS Rating: 5/5

UK/RoW 2 Aug 2012
448pp B-format paperback
£8.99 UK  ISBN 9780857662613

US/CAN  31 Jul 2012
448pp trade paperback
$12.99 US $14.99 CAN  ISBN 9780857662620

eBook  31 Jul 2012
ePub ISBN 9780857662637

Source: Angry Robot
GS Reporter: Whatotherway, Montoya

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