Cover by Martin Bland
BOOK I OF THE MACHINE CRUSADE
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Publishing date: US/Canada 31 July 2012, UK/e-Book 2 August 2012
On the cover:
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.
At the start of the epilogue this seems like it is going to be a story about a family with a difference, the mother and daughter being von Neumanns i.e. robots/artificial humans. But before the epilogue has ended there's an event that makes it go in a different direction.
There are some great action scenes along the way, Ashby is very good at getting the intensity of it across to the reader. But Ashby is also shows great storytelling skill when it comes to the "quieter" parts of the novel.
As with any Science Fiction story the setting is important to the experience. What we get here is a future that isn't at its surface all that different from the present. But it becomes clear as the novel progresses that much has changed, and the glimpses Ashby gives us of this are fascinating.
The setting isn't that important to this story actually, what is important are the vN and how they fit into society.
Ashby excels when it comes to the vN, when we first meet them they seem slightly alien to us, but that soon changes. As Amy, the protagonist, learns more about herself and the history of vN so do we. This is integrated very well into the narrative, and although we get a lot of information it never gives the reader a feeling that they are being infodumped upon. The information flows very well, and is so interesting, that it is at times hard to tell when we are being told things, and when we are learning by "osmosis" as we absorb the story.
The vN, and everything we learn about them, really is something that gets the thought process going. Ashby sets out many moral dilemmas connected to them. Some of these are connected to things that most of us will find reprehensible, but there are other questions raised that aren't so easy to have an opinion about. Fortunately, Ashby never preaches to the reader, instead she makes us think about what is presented. And there really is a lot to contemplate in this novel.
This is in many ways philosophical Science Fiction, in that it poses many big questions about how we as humans interact with other beings. It also is a story about someone who is different from others, and how they cope with that. As such I think it can be read and enjoyed by anyone with an interest in those subjects, and is not really a novel that should be confined to the Science Fiction corner of the book world.
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.
Science Fiction fans would do themselves a disservice if they don't get this novel, and I see no reason why any other reader shouldn't get a hold of it too. This is one book you really don't want to miss.
NOTE: There's a short story with one of the main characters from the novel on the Angry robot Books website, you can read it here.
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher.
LINKS: Madeline Ashby Angry Robot Books