by Madeline Ashby
Robots think and feel. They have jobs and lives and families. They coexist with humans in peaceful harmony. Amy is a five-year-old robot with a robot mother and a human father. They’re a good family. A loving family.
Amy’s parents are starving her.
You see, even a robot needs to eat. It needs raw materials to have enough energy to run, as well as raw materials to grow. Amy looks like a five-year-old human girl, but if she eats too much, she’ll grow up fast. She’s always so hungry… but she wants to be a little girl. She’s looking forward to graduating from kindergarten with all her human friends.
And at graduation, grandma appears. And attempts to kill mom. And in the process, grandma does the unthinkable: she breaks the failsafe. She kills a human child. It’s supposed to be impossible for a robot; whenever a robot even witnesses violence, they simply shut down. Except… the failsafe is broken.
Amy leaps into action, defending her mother… and does the impossible.
Now everyone is after Amy. She’s suddenly in an adult body, but she’s still only five years old inside. Her aunts and cousins want her to hack her system. The humans are terrified of what she represents. And her grandmother… well, she’s along for the ride, too, and all she wants to do is kill those repressive humans.
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.
The world is fascinating as well. Ashby introduces a setting where robots are second-class citizens without being second-class. Because each has a failsafe, they love humans, though they don’t necessarily want to. When robot-human families form, there’s always the unspoken question: Does the robot stay because of the failsafe, or because she really wants to?
Ashby also throws in some awesome Easter eggs. A favorite robot food franchise is called the “Electric Sheep,” for instance. Also look out for some clever Portal references.
My only complaint about the book is the relatively sudden deus ex machina ending. Since this is book one in a series, I suspect that Ashby intends to explore the deus in future installments, which makes me a little more forgiving.
However, the setting, characters, and plot more than make up for any shortcomings in the ending. The book doesn’t get released to the public until July 31st, keep your eyes open for it. Ashby has a solid voice and a unique story to tell.
Legal nuts and bolts: I received vN from Angry Robot Publishing for the purpose of this review.