Author: Annalee Newitz
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review By: Shana
This science fiction novel and the themes it explores is heady and disturbing stuff. We find ourselves about 125 years into a future where corporations are the major political organizers of various zones on the earth. This future boasts extended (potentially indefinitely) lives, youth retained, drugs designed at a molecular level, and artificial intelligence (both fully robotic and with some human parts). Despite what could be a host of improvements, it is also a future obviously encroached upon by climate change (and the attendant sea level rise, changes in cycles of drought and rain, and the like), and with the old inequalities of race and class transformed into new equalities of autonomy and, well, class (some things never change).
Through our main characters, we are introduced to the various permutations life takes in this future. We have Judith “Jack” Chen, currently a pirate and trafficker of reverse engineered drugs, who in her younger days was an idealistic science student and radical (opposed to big pharma’s stranglehold on patents that meant only the rich could afford cures, extended lives, and prolonged youth). She meets Threezed, an indentured human (enslaved to a master for the remainder of his contract) who was born into an indenture school and had his contract sold when the school went bankrupt. Then there are the soldiers working for the International Property Coalition (IPC), one a human (Eliasz) with his own fraught history with bots and indentured humans, and one non-autonomous bot (Paladin) who wonders about the human brain at his/her core and what it means to want something. Finally, we have Med (short for Medea), a fully autonomous robot who has been autonomous her entire life and works as a medical researcher.
The plot itself is a race against time. Jack realizes a drug she reverse engineered leads to addiction and death in some users, and knows that the corporate owner of the drug must be ignoring dangerous signs. Harkening back to her radical days and a wish to do the greater good, Jack begins a race to elude the IPC while finding a way to counteract the drug and bring the company down. This plot acts as a typical thriller, but lets Newitz explore choice and autonomy, mental programming of humans and programming of robots, the right to medical care, the dangers of owning sentient beings, outsider status versus belonging, and the ethics of the biomedical field for what it means to be human.
The book is not simplistic or pleasant. The violence is immediate and offhand, something not too surprising when you consider this is a world where indenture and slavery of a sort are endemic and accepted. And there are no pat solutions or truly happy endings. Newitz has built a believable, complex, and flawed future, and it is to her credit that she does not attempt to “solve” that world’s myriad problems. Recommended for SF readers who like their futures on the dystopic side, their action harsh and unforgiving, and their minds awash with questions that have no easy answers.
My love of reading was sparked in 3rd grade by the promise of personal pan pizzas via the BOOK IT! Program. Hmmmm... any chance that someone might give adults free food for reading? Asking for a friend...