RogerBW's Blog

vN, Madeline Ashby 05 June 2016

2012 science fiction. Amy Peterson is a self-replicating ("von Neumann") humaniform robot, who has been growing up slowly as part of a mixed human/android family. Then her grandmother shows up, and she has to eat her.

This story is an obvious inheritor of Asimov's laws of robotics: the way these robots are built, they have a "failsafe" that makes them unable to cause human suffering. Or to witness it. Even if they think about it in too much detail, they risk shutting down. Naturally, then, we hear all about the failsafe, the ways it cripples any interaction with humans (the robots want nothing more than to please them, which isn't good for the humans or the robots), and at least one way in which it can be made to fail. (Unfortunately this isn't really carried through; one would think that if Amy can't be in school because she'd shut down if another child got hurt, the principal of the school – another robot – would have a similar problem. And why are there robot prisons when all it takes is a human to tell them what to do?)

Amy's failsafe has apparently gone wrong, so she's on the run (legally she's property, because in spite of all the talk about whether there's any meaningful difference between well-simulated electronic emotions and "actual" neurochemical emotions nobody's got round to changing the law yet). And when she consumed her grandmother she got a copy of granny's memories, and sometimes they take over. (Subtle much?)

Because this is also a book about parents, children, and how the transfer of information from one to the other can be analogous to low-level programming. And it's a picaresque introduction to the world (complete with Chekov's Giant Squid). And of course about growing up, even if the person doing the growing up is a robot. And it's a book in which people casually say things like

"Your clade's failsafe was already destabilized by the time you attained self-awareness and the ability to iterate."

so not, perhaps, for the SF novice.

There are occasions of casual violence that I think were meant to disgust, and several different passages dwell on how pædophiles can now have robot "daughters" to abuse and thus not have to worry about harming humans. It's odd, because in many ways this would work better as a young adult story, and these elements sometimes feel extraneous and put in just to shock the reader.

There are plenty of good moments, but the plot bumbles along rather than being driven, the technology is determined by the plot, and the ending is a comprehensive let-down.

There are excellent bits here but, like one of these robots eating plastic rubbish for trace materials, one has to throw an awful lot away. Followed by iD.

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  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 05:08pm on 11 June 2016

    I started this book but couldn't finish it. It reminded me of The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra R Clarke, which I did finish, and really enjoyed.

  2. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 08:17pm on 11 June 2016

    My comment seems to have gone astray, eaten by the internet.

    I couldn't finish this book as it was to similar to The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra R Clarke.

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 09:49am on 20 June 2016

    I shall have to give that a try, then.

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