the Little Red Reviewer

iD, by Madeline Ashby

Posted on: July 2, 2013

I’m part of the blog tour for Madeline Ashby’s brand new Machine Dynasty novel, iD! Stay tuned for a guest post, and in the meantime, here’s a review.

iD by Madeline Ashby

published June 2013

where I got it: received eARC from the publisher (thanks Angry Robot!)

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Madeline Ashby set out to write a robot story from the robot’s point of view, and hooo boy has she succeeded. Robots don’t have feelings you say? they do if we program them to. Robots can’t feel pain you say?  They do if we program them too. And the robots in  this world are programmed to unconditionally love us, no matter we do to them. Kick a dog enough times and it learns not to come back. Kick a robot, and well, it’ll keep coming back because it’s been programmed to.

Why not just program the robot to protect itself?  Because Ashby is a professional researcher, and made the wise decision to place her story in our world, a world steeped in a history of robot fiction, Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, and all of humanity’s unspoken fears. No worries if you’re not familiar, Ashby gives you just enough background to stay afloat, and keeps back enough information that you’ll be frantically turning the pages, begging for more.

MachineDynastytweet

iD is the second book in Ashby’s Machine Dynasty series. Here’s the ultra quick summary of the world, and how we got there:  A wealthy Megachurch manufactured humanoid robots known as vN to help the humans who will be left behind after the Rapture. The Church goes bankrupt and is forced to sell the patents to other companies who continue to manufacture the Von Neumann (self replicating) robots. The robots are programmed with a failsafe, which keep them from harming people, and directly connect their well being with the well being of the people around them. The vN robots are used for all kinds of things,  everything from dangerous or boring jobs people don’t want to do, to surrogate family members and domestic servants, to the sex trade. When the human is happy, the vN is happy. simple as that.

The vN are not human. They were not born, they do not die, and they are programmed to obey us.

But Amy Peterson is different. Once upon a time, something went very wrong with her failsafe. She put her human father in danger, and she’s started a backlash against her entire kind. At the end of vN, Amy and her robot partner Javier retreated to an island with built in protections. For a while, no one bothered them. Javier’s “sons” played happily in the trees, and he and Amy were thinking of having an iteration together.

Not a spoiler to tell you they aren’t left alone on their island paradise. It’s early in the story when Javier finds himself alone, friendless, nearly resourceless, and the main character of iD.

Javier is Amy’s opposite in many ways, making it a lot of fun to get his point of view. Where Amy was raised as a human child in a loving and healthy environment, Javier was abandoned by his father and spent his youth in a prison. Amy doesn’t understand the connection between humans and sexbots, where Javier is intimately familiar with the practice. When it comes to sex with humans, Javier is a pro. He knows more about your most secret thoughts than you do, and he’s programmed to keep you happy.

Am I sounding repetitive yet? Have I made it perfectly clear that the vN have no choice but to do anything any human tells them, and that following orders is what makes them happy?

At a breakneck pace Javier uses what skills he has to keep Amy’s not-quite-dead grandmother at bay, attempt to find his surviving children, and find what remains of his beloved Amy. His priorities are his children and Amy, but humanity has started to see vN as one huge threat. I picked iD up planning to read just the first chapter, and then going back to it later, but like vN, it proved unputdownable. Spanning the globe and giving us much more background on New Eden and what humanity really thinks of their new neighbors, this series is required reading if you enjoy predictions of our near-future relationships with humanoid robots.  If Javier is going to save his family,  he might be forced to learn the hard truth about failsafes along the way.

There is a lot, and I do mean a LOT of sex in this book. Not all of it consensual, some of it with no warning. If you have any kind of triggery-ness towards assault, rape, harmful acts against children/the sexualization of children, this may not be the series for you. The point of the shock value is to force the reader to face of the question of “they’re robots, so it doesn’t count, right?”. Well, does it?  Doesn’t count as killing when you play Call of Duty, does it?

I’ve read a handful of reviews of vN and iD where the reviewer seems to imply that Ashby is just “ripping off” Bladerunner or Asimov’s laws of robotics, or any other story involving robots. You guys, that is not what’s going on here. Yes, there are tons of references to Blade Runner and The Three Laws of Robotics, the best placed Star Trek reference I’ve ever seen, and personally I was waiting for an R Daneel Olivaw mention that never came. The references are there to make it painfully obvious how naive and young Javier is (He looks like an adult, but he’s only four years old) and to point to an honored literary and cultural past that brought robot fiction to where it is today. This is the opposite of a rip off. Ashby is using what came before to build towards new heights of possibility.

We had to wait all this time for Madeline Ashby to come along and show us what Robot fiction is really capable of.  You know what? it was worth the wait.

Also, you’ll notice I’ve asked a lot of questions in this review and offered no answers.

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9 Responses to "iD, by Madeline Ashby"

“The point of the shock value is to force the reader to face of the question of “they’re robots, so it doesn’t count, right?”. ”

This is the kind of thing I love about The Machine Dynasty – all those questions about humans vs machines, consent, love, emotion, sex etc. I’m busy with my review of iD now and am just trying articulate the way Ashby explores Javier’s character. He’s a four-year old adult, as you say, but with more sexual experiences than most humans. Sex is both his strength and his weakness (in some really horrifying ways).

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I know, right?

What do we owe something that’s not a person? is it really “dehumanizing” if they are a machine? JUST WAIT until the guest post publishes in a few minutes, she talks about this very thing!

I remember reading (and really enjoying) Asimov’s I Robot and the Lije Bailey robot books. Robots had to obey us then too. But humans weren’t going to hurt them, or take advantage of them. they were very emotionless stories, and life was pretty safe for everyone.

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The idea of life being safe for everyone is such a stark contrast to this series :) For all their strength and processing power the vN are always at the mercy of humans (except for Amy). That kiddie brothel is just horrifying but at the same time it’s fairly standard employment for vN. And throughout his story Javier runs the risk of being sexually assaulted because he can’t fight back. Which is also extremely rare for an adult male character.

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“Javier runs the risk of being sexually assaulted because he can’t fight back. Which is also extremely rare for an adult male character.”

talk about subverting the expected! I hate what he goes through, but I love Ashby turning everything on it’s head.

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Some details of Asimov’s imaginary future technology as he described in the 1940s and 1950s have not aged well. For example, he described powerful robots and computers from the distant future using punched cards or punched tape and engineers using slide rules . In one dramatic scene in Foundation and Empire , a character gets the news by buying a paper at a vending machine . Of course, this charge could be leveled at virtually any writer of science fiction and has little critical impact.

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I can’t wait to read this one. I read vN last week and adored it (although I haven’t gotten around to writing the review yet). I’m curious to see Javier’s perspective. Amy was rather sheltered, and she didn’t have a failsafe, so at least her feelings about her experiences were always her own. Javier’s experience seems like it would be more telling of what existence is like for ordinary vN.

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Not only are we getting a “robot story” from the robot’s POV, we get it from two very different vN, which is brilliant. It’s incredible to see the failsafe happening from Javier’s point of view. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but yeah, you gotta read iD!!

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I agree it was unputdownable! I was sad that he just carried on with the sexing his way to his goal but you know you have to use the tools that are in your arsenal! I hope there is a third one…and wouldn’t it be nice if they go into space?

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