vN (Machine Dynasty, #1)

Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Angry Robot
Published: July 2012
Where I got it: Watersones Glasgow

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 them, young Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.

Now she’s on the run, carrying her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive. She’s growing quickly, and learning too. Like the fact that in her, and her alone, the failsafe that stops all robots from harming humans has stopped working… Which means that everyone wants a piece of her, some to use her as a weapon, others to destroy her.

Okay! It’s been a really quiet week or so on the blog front, mostly owing to a battle with a horrid cold that left me pretty much brain-wiped, but it’s on the retreat now, so onward!

I have had vN on my reading pile for a few months now, and decided to finally crack it open after a good run so far of reading and being wonderfully surprised by Angry Robot’s publishing choices (Emma Newman and Chuck Wendig, to name a couple of authors whose books I’ve reviewed here). I’d heard good things, and was hoping for more of them. I got … some of those good things. I prefer my glass half full. That said, I was a bit underwhelmed by the overall result, as I will attempt to explain…

First, the good points. I was fascinated by Ashby’s creations, the vNs themselves. The idea of self-replicating androids seemed like an interesting, slightly creepy take on robots. It is interesting – and also creepy, but mostly interesting. Amy Peterson’s take on the world, and on herself and others like her, was a convincing mix of human, thanks to her upbringing, and not entirely human (because, y’know, robot). The presence of Portia, her ‘malfunctioning’ hard-line grandmother, provides most of the creep factor I mentioned, and helps to throw Amy’s innocence into clearer relief. Likewise, her friendship with Javier, another vN who is driven to iterate (self-replicate) as often as possible, provides an intriguing relationship as Amy goes on the run.

All of these things were interesting, but to raise my main point against the book, they were only interesting. They didn’t leap off the page and seize me by the imagination; there was no moment while reading this book that I got lost in the story, unable or unwilling to put it down. After some thought, I suspect this is due to how difficult I found it to really connect with Amy as a character – or, as is probably fairer to say, as a relatable human character. If I’m being honest I found Javier more realised, more engaging, than I found Amy.

My background-digging on this book and its author informs me that Madeline Ashby is a big fan of anime and manga, and though I’m not that much of a fan of it myself, I can sort of see a bit of that influence here, in the style in which she writes. That said, for me personally this is not much of a plus. Anime/manga is not my thing because to put it really simply, I don’t Get It. Likewise, while I like the ideas contained here, I suspect very strongly that I just Don’t Get It.

This isn’t a criticism of Ashby or her work, however; it works for her, and clearly works for her publisher and for a lot of other people who’ve read this, I’ve no doubt. It just didn’t work for me as much as I had hoped.

However, the Second: a bit more digging for info on the next Machine Dynasty book, iD, tells me it’s apparently more focused on Javier than Amy. So there’s every chance I’ll give it a try, and the series a second chance. Glass half full, after all…

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