In the not too distant future New Eden Ministries, Inc. believes stranded sinners will need companions after the Rapture. Thus this company, which is one part religious cult and one part business venture, has made huge advances in robotics. The resulting androids, vNs or von Neumann humanoids, now work as nurses, foresters, and can do almost any job a human is capable of doing, if not a few more. However, not all androids are treated equal. Enter Amy Peterson, a little girl on the cusp of graduating Kindergarten. Amy’s family is mixed. Her father is a human, an organic, and her mother is an android, a synthetic. Amy is completely synthetic. She is the result of her mother’s choice to “iterate,” which means when an android is ready to consume a larger amount of their specialized diet it can produce a copy of itself. All androids are capable of self-replicating no matter what their assigned gender is. But to give Amy the best of both worlds, her mother and father have decided to keep her on diet that allows her to grow up slowly like a human child does instead of reaching her full size within a year like other androids. But all of that changes when Amy’s grandmother crashes the Kindergarten graduation. Everything goes to hell in a hand basket and soon little Amy is on the run from both organics and synthetics alike.
The plot of Madeline Ashby’s novel is a little convoluted as Amy tries to figure out what is happening to her as she searches for her parents. Still I found myself intrigued by the premise as it raised some interesting questions. Can an android be made to feel love? What is a feeling anyway if not a series reactions to stimuli? Organics have the benefit of biology, but in the novel synthetics have been programmed to mimic their makers in a variety of ways. They also feel a selfless love for all organics (which is part of a fail-safe, not unlike Asimov’s First Law of Robotics, that keeps humans from harm), and since their systems are precisely regulated, which is to say both humans and androids in the novel consider synthetics to be more emotionally stable, it is not uncommon to find humans pairing with androids.
Yet there’s also a dark side in Ashby’s world. Because androids “feel” love for humans, they try to please their organic counterparts even if it means the android suffers harm in the end. Some humans take advantage of this fail safe, knowing android children can’t say no to human pedophiles, and unlike organic children the synthetic children want to please them so they do not run away. This also happens to full-grown androids when they are, for lack of a better word, seduced by humans. But their just robots, right? This question of “thing” vs “being” raises more questions in the novel, since a) what does that say about humans and b) these androids do have an evolving sense of autonomy. And as it turns out, each “iteration” is small evolution on the previous model, this in combination with other factors sets up most of the conflict found in the novel. Humans against Androids, Androids against Androids, and Humans vs Humans, everyone seems to have a stake in Amy’s future. Because of all the models made, Amy’s type (which is based on a Nurse-model known as Portias) has developed either a flaw or an advantage. Not that I’m going to give away what happens, but as far as a series goes, it will be interesting to read in which direction Ashby takes the story.
Overall, I liked this book. It was witty, inventive, Ashby made characters sympathetic, organic and inorganic alike, but my main point of criticism would be that the writing wasn’t always clear. Sometimes there were scenes of chaos when characters came into conflict, which in another writer’s hands would have made more sense to the reader, but the pace of the novel is fast enough that these small hangups were not a huge hindrance as much as blip of annoyance. Also, for being inventive in the design of these androids and their abilities, I did think the plot was a little predictable. Although I don’t know that I can complain too much about that aspect since it probably mitigated the parts of the novel that were a little bit confusing. I pre-ordered this book on Kindle for $5.03, now it’s listed at $4.89. I think that’s a fair price for what you get. I can’t say that I would have bought this book in paperback for $8.32.
Don’t think a future with androids is coming? Seriously, it’s practically here. Prepare to have your “uncanny valley” plummet off the chart.
I think the first two are scripted, but you can see just how far robotics have come.