For weeks, my mom has been asking for a central location where all of the reviews for vN can be housed. This will help facilitate her bragging. (You’re welcome, Mom. I’ll update this as I find more.)
Note: Most of these reviews are already included at my publisher’s vN page. The blurbs are there, too. Or you could visit the Goodreads page on the subject. Or the Amazon page. vN has also been listed at Kirkus and Ranting Dragon as one of July’s most anticipated books.
But actually, vN is strange and jarring in a much different way than Dick’s paranoid masterpiece. It’s a strange, dazzling look at the world through the eyes of a rogue artificial woman, who sees things in an off-kilter fashion, and becomes the most dangerous robot in the world as a result. You get drawn into the lush, disturbing world, seeing it through the eyes of a robot, and soon enough you’re losing your whole sense of reality. The familiar human world will never look the same again.
Ashby’s debut is a fantastic adventure story that carries a sly philosophical payload about power and privilege, gender and race. It is often profound, and it is never boring.
In Ashby’s expert hands vN cuts a painful incision into the emotional complexity of oppression in our society, and the way love can feed the worst kinds of hate. vN is a powerful novel and a fine exemplar of exactly the perspectives chauvinist SF so often stifles.
Be warned: even if the main character isn’t human, vN is sometimes a painfully brutal read.
With an excellent grasp of her subject matter and much to say within the genre, Ashby looks set to become one of the most important new voices in this particular branch of SF, and I for one shall be awaiting her next book with great interest. Download to your system at the earliest opportunity.
At its core vN is an adventure novel, starring robots who are intimately human — but laced with hints of grotesque power and strange abilities. Unlike so much of this genre, which tags robots with superficial digital traits lifted from pulp fiction, Ashby’s robots explore their uniqueness in a way that is both genuine and alien. It is a rare author who can write a fast-paced adventure without losing sight of the dilemmas, debates, morality and emotion that mark good storytelling. vN is nothing less. If you pick it up (and I recommend you do), expect to find a world thick with meaning and humour, elegantly packaged in an eminently readable adventure.
There was honestly nothing about the book I disliked; I adored it all – from the bizarre beginning, through all the action, horror, and gut-wrenching twists, right until the very end. Since this novel is Book I of the Machine Dynasty, I’m eagerly awaiting its sequel. In my opinion, vN is one of the best and most original robot books since Asimov.
vN is a strong debut novel; its central premise is interesting and Ashby draws us into a highly detailed and technologically literate world. Fans of Bladerunner, the Portal games and Raising Cain will find this an interesting read with more than a little bit of food for thought.
I could so easily start every paragraph of this review with “but the best part of the book was. . .” because are just so many incredible aspects of this book – the characters and their lives, the surprising way this future came to be, the dark subtexts, and the easy to understand technology, just to mention the ones that quickly come to mind. With nods to Blade Runner, Ai, and of course Pinocchio, vN is for anyone who is sick of waiting for the future to get here already.
I’ve started and restarted this review about a half-dozen times. Not because I don’t have anything to say about vN, because I assuredly do – when do I not? – but rather because I don’t know where to start. There is so much to say about vN, from the characters to the basic premise, to the writing and the power of the story, it’s hard to begin.
Just don’t expect too much of the complicated stuff and you’ll be fine.
Ashby manages to create real sympathy for her synthetics, but fails to detail her near-future landscape (a Pacific Northwest depopulated by an enormous earthquake) with enough distractions to cover the paucity of human characters.
If authors of outstanding novels could be compared to baseball players mashing mind-blowing homeruns, then Madeline Ashby would test positive for a high dosage of synthetic steroids and robot growth hormone. A captivating conglomeration of Stephen Spielberg’s A.I., a little mix of I, Robot, and even The Matrix seem to infiltrate their way into vN, Ashby’s first novel with Angry Robot Publishing.
What follows is a fast-paced story that is very difficult to put down: interesting characters (for instance, Javier and his many “sons”), excellent fight scenes, references to classic science fiction authors and films (including the ISAAC’S ELECTRONICS company, dreams about unicorns and a cocktail called Tears in the rain)… All this while putting forward many cool scientific and philosophical ideas. Because vN is the perfect example of how a book can be, at the same time, action-oriented and thought provoking.
I will warn you now, vN isn’t a light read. Unless of course you eat technical science for breakfast. I really had to concentrate on the story, and this was for two reasons. Firstly the science fiction elements were fairly complex and technical, to my brain anyway, and I had to focus to understand the language used to describe Amy’s physical makeup and artificial intelligence. Secondly vN was constantly presenting thought provoking situations, whether it was about what makes someone human, where do morals and ethics end and robotics begin, or how much can humanoid robots be aware, conscious or considered human.
Beyond the fact I want more, I don’t have any other complaints about the book. It was well written, the characters were clear, predictable and concise in their motivations and actions never leaving me doubting why they ever did something. In fact, since I haven’t read a book where robots were the central theme in some time I would easily say that this could set the standard for things to come. So give it a read as soon as it come out at the end of July.
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.
Ashby takes the best of what [Alien and Blade Runner] established and encapsulates them into a creepy, uncomfortable road-trip adventure that rolls right along with the strictures of the classics and builds where they left off. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve had with a book all year, and it kept me up thinking about the unasked question about synthetic life: once we create it… what do we do with it?
vN is full of fantastic ideas and philosophical questions, which I enjoyed, but it is the plight of the all-too-human Amy which kept me reading in order to find out what would happen next. While vN is only Book One in The Machine Dynasty, I was satisfied with the book as a stand-alone novel (although I will definitely read any sequels). There were a few odd jumps from one scene to another in the book, but nothing I couldn’t figure out. If you like stories about artificial intelligence and the question of what it means to be a person and a human, check out vN when it is released on 7/31/12.
vN is a great novel. The prose drives forward. The tension never slackens. Amy is an instantly likable character. Ashby hands her some great interests that mark her as drastically different from the standard sci-fi heroine. Little Amy loves designing homes and cities, and Ashby uses this interest to great effect.
As a whole, this is a remarkably good debut novel. There’s action, quiet contemplation, twists and turns, and it has a beautiful ending with a note of hope to it. There is so much that is great in this novel, that I don’t want to single out any element. Everything in it comes together to create what very well could be the best Science fiction novel I read this year.
There is absolutely no sugar coating and let me tell you, some psychotic stuff happens. Right front the beginning of the book I was shocked by the events that unfolded; which was refreshing. You never know what could possibly happen next because the entire book is out of the realm of sanity. Does that make sense? It’s completely and utterly unpredictable.
I’m foaming at the mouth to read the next book. Though I know this was the first book in a series it was MOST definitely its own complete story and can in my mind stand on its own legs. I hate when series books are started off and they just leave you with a cliff hanger at the end. This was not the case. I think if you are up for something different definitely give vN a try. It’s not a ‘light’ read but it’s got so much action to it and thought provoking juices that you’ll rip right through it!
Science fiction has always played around with the idea of machines that look and act like humans. Theses stories have a habit of promoting introspection on my part. What exactly does it mean to be human? What indistinguishable quality sets you aside from your fellow man? Will technology ever super-cede the human race? vN continues to explore this debate in a thoughtful and engrossing fashion. The best sci-fi not only entertains but also educates and informs, and vN manages all three effortlessly. Well worth checking out if you get the chance.
Madeline Ashby has written a book that I’d love to see become a series. For all you scifi movie buffs, vN: The First Machine Dynasty takes Blade Runner to the next level. It’s very well written and is literally a book you’ll have to read in one sitting because it’s impossible to put down.
By far not a light read, in glimpses vN can be extraordinarily dark, sometimes unremittingly so – from the cannibalistic gestalt of Amy’s clade as it moves to consume her, or the unnerving character who keeps vN’s as children to satisfy his desires are all flesh-crawlingly creepy in different, but unique ways.
What does it mean to grow up robotic?
I think there’s a lot about growing up that’s already pretty robotic. One of the themes the book takes up is parenting-as-programming, even when that programming is the unwitting kind that leaves in a lot of bugs. For example: when I was growing up, I watched my mother apply lipstick in the rearview mirror before we went anywhere. “I have to put my lipstick on so I don’t scare anybody,” she’d say. “My mother used to say that, you know.” Well, now I’m the one who says it, and I rarely leave the house without something on my lips. It’s nothing major, but I think this little Lamarckian meme of my grandmother’s has proved profitable for the lip gloss people.
The robots in this book are synthetic organisms that come with a bunch of possible optimizations, and they’re fatally allergic to hurting humans. So that means eating different food from the other organic kids in class, and watching different media, and so on. It also means you can’t really fight back when a boy chases you across the playground at recess and tries to flip up your skirt. Not because he’s bigger or faster or stronger than you, but because you’ll enter a cascading failure loop should you so much as simulate the outcome. Not that you’d want to fight, anyway. You love humans. Your designers saw to that right quick.
Odo: I’d also say that movies have some influence in your writing. For instance, some scenes in vN reminded me of Blade Runner and The Matrix. Did you have in mind this kind of movie when writing vN?
MA: Oh, definitely. I love Ghost in the Shell and Evangelion. So I had those action scenes in mind when I was writing the novel. I wanted that kind of savagery and brutality. For robot battles, those scenes get surprisingly visceral and personal. That’s what I was aiming for. I first watched Blade Runner in the third grade, and the intimacy of the violence scared me. I was still fascinated by it, though. My father showed it to me.
Your vN blow current robot technology away. While our best robots are capable of dancing, building toys, and reacting to spankings, your vN are dodging bullets, replicating, and living happy marriages with human counterparts. Do you think that a being like a vN is truly within the technical grasp of mankind?
Well, I tried to write about technologies currently in existence, or at least in development in labs. Carbon tubing can respond like muscle. Polymer-doped memristors do exist. The skin is a problem, of course. It’s hard to imagine a skin-like substance impregnated with photovoltaic pigments that mimic cyanophageous algae. Silicone probably wouldn’t cut it. But my point was basically that to get a human-like being, we should go to the human scale. Which isn’t actuators and hydraulic muscles. Humans are built at the level of the cell. That’s where all the most important machinery is. If you want robots to replicate the organically ordered chaos we take for granted, we should start at that level.
What attracts you to the science fiction genre?
I grew up watching and reading science fiction. It was a constant presence in our household. I was the kid who explained The X-Files to all the adults, because they couldn’t understand the plot. But in general, what drew me to science fiction were the words of Ursula K. LeGuin: “The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary.”I think science fiction has the power to do exactly that. I think it can showcase many possible futures, so we’re better equipped to choose the ones we want. And I think that in a culture that is so unabashedly anti-intellectual, anti-factual, and anti-science as this one, writing science fiction is even more important. I mean, the anti-vaccination movement has brought on measles outbreaks in California children. We need science. We need inspiring stories about science and the people who practise it.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I enjoy being a writer very much. But I recognize that my experience is influenced by living in Toronto, a city with a huge community of writers and readers who are very supportive of each other. Every week there’s a reading or a launch or another literary event here, and that’s a luxury I’m lucky to have. The other luxury I can claim is having a great workshop – the Cecil Street Irregulars – available to me as a writer. They’re a very supportive group, but not above sticking it to a story when the story just isn’t good enough. I’ve come home from bad nights at workshops and felt like I should just stop trying, but I didn’t. Later, when I was editing vN, I cultivated that same merciless attitude and I like the book a lot better for it.
L.R.R. There’s a dark subtext in vN that points towards humanity’s darker instincts. Are you hinting that technology run amok (survellieance, humanoid robots, etc) enables our darker sides?
M.A. No, I think we enable our darker sides all on our own. But I also think technologies enable a certain distancing between the self and the act. We have people in Provo, Utah who pilot predator drones over Afghanistan. They push a button, and buildings explode and people die. It’s all by remote. I think that’s what certain technologies can do — they can take us out of the action, and make us feel better about what we’re really doing. High-functioning humanoid robots, if DARPA finds a winning entry to their competition to build one, will probably be no different.
I was just graduating from a Jesuit university at the time, and I’d spent the past four years reading Aeschylus and Blake and Fitzgerald, but watching Cowboy Bebop and Stand Alone Complex and Fullmetal Alchemist. And here was this SF writer [Ursula K. LeGuin] talking about Virginia Woolf and the vital power of imagination. Suddenly it all made sense, and I stopped worrying about what kind of writer to be, or what tradition to be loyal to. I’m so lucky to have met her. She was so kind to me. I’ll never forget it.
Tell me about one of your typical writing days…what are your routines? Favorite places to read, write. Music? millions of notes strewn all over the floor?
I have different playlists for different works. The playlist for vN includes Nine Inch Nails, Amanda Palmer, Fleet Foxes, The Civil Wars, Sarah Slean, Editors, and Johnny Cash. That’s just a sampling, though. The actual list is over four hours long. I write while wearing a pair of Sony XB-1 headphones. I love Sony headphones. I won’t wear anything else. I tried, once, with a pair of cheap Panasonic drugstore earbuds. It was awful. Sounded like wartime radio. Which, as I think of it, would be a good title for something.