Sunday, July 7, 2013

vN (review)

3.5/5 stars

vN (Goodreads | Amazon) surprised me.  I went into this book with low expectations for all the wrong reasons.  None of my friends had read it and as a blogger I'm probably too reliant on the opinion of my friends, especially if the book has been out awhile. Also I'm a little nervous about some of the recent science fiction books because they seem more romantically driven than science based.  Fortunately Angry Robot was moving offices and send out an email newsletter which brought me and this book together.  Feels a little like fate.

In all actuality I want to rate this book 4 stars.  My enjoyment level was on par with a lot of books that get that rating.  However, my confusion level was a little high for a book that I enjoyed that much.  vN is very interesting -- the story of robots that have achieved sentience and independent though not completely.  In most ways they are people.  However, built into their programming are two things that limit their freedom 1. A failsafe that disables them when they harm humans or see humans being harmed 2. A built in attraction and desire to please people.

However, Amy Peterson is different.  Raised in a synthetic family (human "father" and robot mother, she's been taught to be as human as possible.  When a rogue robot, her grandmother, attacks a student at her kindergarten graduation Amy jumps into action to protect the family she loves.  In order to save her mother from her grandmother, Amy joins fray and ultimately eats her grandmother. Turns out her robot lineage has a major flaw.  In a lot of the von Neumann model of robot the failsafe has stopped working.  Amy grows up quickly (Literally, Grandmother provided lots of nutrients) and goes on the run.  Nothing scares the humans more than a malfunctioning robot that could attack anyone at any time.

This book is very action-packed, with Amy running from the law, teaming up with another robot Javier who's a chronic reproducers (which is also against the law).  In some ways Amy is very much a 5-year-old girl trapped in an adult body, but in other ways due to programming and advanced intelligence she's a grown woman.  She's confused, scared and wants to be reunited with her family.  You get conflicting innoncence and awareness that makes Amy a fascinating complex main character.

This book deals with a lot of interesting issues.  Everything from the simultaneously religious and perverted reason robots were created, to what makes someone sentient, without getting weighed down with a lot of exposition and philosophizing   This book's biggest flaw is that at times it confused me.  Sometimes I would have to re-read passages and still could not understand what was happening.  Passages about how Amy's software glitches worked or how there was a house that could expand itself always left me a little baffled and unable to picture what was happening.  Those sections took me out of the story and often slowed the pace of the novel.

Despite my occasional confusion, Amy's plight really drew me into the story.  Even though she's a robot, she reads very realistically and very human. All the problems I expected we're entirely in my imagination and this book really impressed me.  Bring on book two!

FTC Disclosure: This book was given to me by Angry Robot because they were cleaning out their offices.  I'm not sure if the FTC really cares about this type of exchange since the review is entirely because I want to review it (not because they asked me to) but I'm giving this disclosure anyways.

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