On its surface, this is a story about a woman who releases a pirated copy of a productivity drug, her attempts to help those who have been hurt by the drug, the people who are helping her, and the law enforcement people who are trying to find and stop her. On that level, it’s a decent science fiction novel.
The world in which the story is set–Earth in the mid-twenty-second century–is one in which robots are created and then, ostensibly, earn their autonomy after providing their creators with a decade of work. In addition, people can be indentured, with technically more safeguards than the chattel slavery that was our country’s shame in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
And there are the drugs. Just as today, the drugs of this world are patented, so that only those with enough money can afford to extend their lives, recover from infections, treat genetic ailments, enhance their performance, and get intoxicated. There are those who try to provide those treatments for all, but they are largely blocked by the large, for-profit corporations.
Newitz has some things to say about American health care in the early twenty-first century, but that’s not really the main theme. Her main theme is achieving autonomy, and how much of it do we truly have. We are all the products of our upbringing, our “programming,” and the pleasures that we seek. Do any of us have real autonomy.
This isn’t my favorite of the finalists for Best Novel, but it’s a good solid story by an author to keep an eye on.
Newitz, Annalee. Autonomous. New York: Tor Books, 2017. Kindle edition. Amazon.
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