the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Madeline Ashby’ Category

scifi month header

Thanks to the amazing organization skills of Rinn over at Rinn Reads, we’re right in the heart of  Science Fiction Month. And I’ve noticed something. Something wonderful: lots of folks who are participating in SciFi Month are completely new to science fiction.

This is fantastic!  That so many people who have never picked up a science  fiction book are interested in giving some weird stuff a try, it warms my heart.  Getting into science fiction isn’t always easy.   Strange names, alien planets, technobabble, far future technologies. . .  it can be a bit much.  Luckily, there are plenty (countless, actually) of “gate way” books, books that take place right now, or maybe a few years in the future, or even a few years in past. Books that don’t leave the solar system, maybe don’t even leave the Earth. You don’t need to be fluent in technobabble or have a degree in astronomy to enjoy these. You just need to turn the first page. . .

to help you on your journey into scifi, I’ve linked the titles to my reviews.  If you have any suggestions for other gateway books, let everyone know in the comments!

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett – After her parent’s death, Mona inherits her Mom’s old house in a sleepy town in the southwest. It’s one of those old fashioned towns, where everyone knows everyone else, and the oldsters remember all the family secrets. there are family secrets, and then there are Family Secrets. How will Mona react when she learns her own?

In the Garden of Iden, by Kage Baker. I love Kage Baker, it’s as simple as that. This novel is the first of her Company Series. Don’t worry, it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, you won’t feel sucked into reading another long series. Mendoza is an operative with a company that collects historical artifacts, and they’ve turned her into an immortal cyborg, of sorts. She spies on people, but can’t tell anyone who or what she is. Really sucks, when she falls in love with someone on her first mission. This book is as heartbreaking as it is funny. By the way, I’ve got a review of some Kage Baker Company short stories that’ll be posting in a few days.

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Madeline Ashby is the author of two of my favorite recent novels, vN and iD (links go to my reviews). In the Machine Dynasty series, Ashby envisions a near future world where Von Neumann self replicating androids have become an every-day part of our lives.  They raise and teach our children, take on dangerous occupations, and were supposed to make our lives easier.  Sounds easy, right? not so much, when you get the story from the vN’s point of view.

For more information about Madeline Ashby, her fiction, her travel schedule, and more, I encourage you to visit her website, and follow her on twitter. More than that, I encourage you to read her amazing fiction!

My question/prompt  to Ms. Ashby for her guest post was:

Once upon a time we started with Asimov’s unemotional humanoid robots, and then we evolved to robots who could be tricked/programmed to believe they were human and robots who desperately wanted to be human, and now in the Machine Dynasty series we have robots who know they aren’t human, but tend to feel emotions even stronger and more powerfully than many people.  What’s the next step for robot/AI fiction? Where do we go from here?

And here’s what she had to say:


Madeline-Low-Res-02-e1348636903481I think robot subjectivity is still a wide open space for science fiction writers. I think the challenge is to actually dig in to the reality of computer vision, and algorithmic detection of motion, affect, and identity. One of the things I beat myself up for is not digging more deeply into those things. There are other writers who just kill it when it comes to that kind of rigorous depiction of another’s consciousness. Peter Watts is probably the best at it — in his stories “The Things” and “Malak,” he’s able to write exactly the experience that an alien and a predator drone would have, from their perspective, without making any room for the human element. If you want it dumbed down or warmed up, well, that’s just too bad. He’s that disciplined in his approach.
So I think inevitably, we’ll get more of that kind of story. Less anthropomorphizing, and more cognitive re-framing of what “point of view” really means. When you think about it, the robots we work with on a daily basis have a split point of view: there’s what the drone “sees” (white and neon squares on a field of grey), and what the human “pilot” observes (targets). Together, that data and interpretation work together to create what we might call a vision, or a perspective, but by themselves neither component is entirely complete. Sitting at my desk, that’s an interesting challenge. How do I write something so split, so different? How do I write about that kind of sight? How do I establish that type of consciousness as a distinctive, memorable character?

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!)











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.


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.

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vN by Madeline Ashby

published July 2012 from Angry Robot Books

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher









I could so easily start every paragraph of this review with “but the best part of the book was. . .” because are just so many incredible aspects of this book – the characters and their lives, the surprising way this future came to be,  the dark subtexts, and the easy to understand technology, just to mention the ones that quickly come to mind. With nods to Blade Runner, Ai, and of course Pinocchio, vN is for anyone who is sick of waiting for the future to get here already. I recently had the honor to interview Madeline Ashby, and if there is anyone knows what the future  brings, it’s her. It wouldn’t surprise me if she edged out Cory Doctorow as my favorite futurist. She’s canny on the uncanny valley, and I think after reading vN you will be too.

First off, the vast majority of the book is from the viewpoint of the vN’s. Ashby immediately puts us behind the eyes of Amy, a five year old vN who has been raised by her vN mother and her human father. Her parents have chosen to raise her as close to a human child as possible, so along with all the other five year old kids in the neighborhood, Amy is in kindergarden at the beginning of our story.

But Amy isn’t a regular human girl. She’s a von Neumann self replicating humanoid. And it’s the “self replicating” part thats only the first brilliant thing in this book. By consuming the correct amount of feedstock, a vN can iterate – create a clone of themselves. Amy is a clone of her mother Charlotte, and every vN of their model has identical physical attributes. Conversely, should a vN want to stay child-size or not iterate, they must literally starve themselves. Amy has been starving since the day she was “born”. So when her grandmother threatens Charlotte, Amy’s first reaction is to disarm her grandmother by eating her.

Kindergardner eats Grandma is a bit of an opening shocker, no?

why yes, yes that was a bit of a shocker.  But a brilliant one.

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I was gone for a few days, and someone started giving away some of my Very Good Books?  As much as I love getting and receiving VeryGoodBooks, it’s also great to share them and pass them on when I’m done with them.  Maybe I should do these long weekends out of town more often!

While I was gone, I devoured Madeline Ashby’s debut novel vN, which hits bookstore shelves in late July.  I did truly devour it. I had planned to read it a little bit here, a little bit there, over coffee, enjoying my Mom’s garden, and nope. Once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. It was finished before I even got to my parents house. Alluring cover art and a fascinating premise of a future where self replicating humanoids live side by side with humans, marrying humans, being raised as human children, being told they are equal to humans, and well, sometimes not.

With nods to Bladerunner and AI, vN is what you should be reading if you’re canny on the uncanny valley. Suffice to say, I was thrilled when Ms. Ashby offered to answer a few questions for me. While you’re waiting for my review (it’ll post tomorrow if I can get my act together later today), let’s better get to know Madeline Ashby – Strategic Foresight Consultant, science fiction writer, lover of manga and anime, and the woman who proved you CAN do a masters degree on a science fictional topic. Twice.

L.R.R. You can find manga in any bookstore and anime on nearly any television station these days, but this wasn’t always the case. How did you get hooked on manga and anime? Where would you suggest someone new to those forms start?

M.A. I had friends in high school who were interested in anime. Specifically, someone who used the characters of Haruka and Michiru (Sailors Uranus and Neptune, respectively) on Sailor Moon to talk about her own sexuality. But she wasn’t the only one. I had friends who were into Evangelion and Utena and Fushigi Yuugi. I watched movies like Akira and Ghost in the Shell with them. That pattern didn’t change in university or afterward. I still watch anime with friends.

If I were suggesting anime titles to anyone, I would ask them what genres they like in the first place. If they want science fiction with a side of deep characterization and pulse-pounding action, Cowboy Bebop. If they want a thoughtful slice-of-life dramedy with a side of tender romance, then Fruits Basket. If they want something totally surreal, then FLCL or Paranoia Agent. If they want something meta, something that comments on a genre from within that genre, then Madoka or Evangelion.

L.R.R. vN opens with a  beautiful family scene between Amy and her parents; her vN mother Charlotte, and her human father Jack.  They have a healthy normal family life. I realize this is a loaded question, but do you think this is a possible future for humanity – mixed couples of one human partner and one synthetic/humanoid partner?

this is about two weeks worth of book hauling. and goodies in the mail from publishers who I want to give a giant hug to:

Let’s see what we got.  in an attempt to actually read the stuff I acquire, I’ve prioritized these. We’ll see how well I stick to my “rules” after a few months and another book haul. Don’t expect to see reviews instantly, I just this morning got back into town and haven’t started on any of these (just finished Sarah Zettel’s Fool’s War and then picked up Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies for our read along). I’ve also got few library books not mentioned here that I need to eventually get to as well.  Le sigh, the life of a book lover!

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (May 2012) I’ve been a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson since Red Mars. His science fiction is deep, detailed (really, really detailed. Like Neal Stephenson detailed) and realistic feeling. Ok, sure, Antartica was kinda boring, but I appreciated the concept. I am really looking forward to diving into 2312. Priority – high.

The Company Man, by Robert Jackson Bennett – SF Noir? Perhaps some kind of mix of Dark City and Sam Spade? looks good to me! I loved Bennett’s The Troupe, so am excited to read more of his works. By the way, have you seen his recent book trailer? priority – medium

The Mongoliad book one (April 2012) by a multitude of cool people – I’m really not sure what this is. rumors were swirling around the interwebs a few years ago about some kind of subscription where beta-readers could interact with the authors about the story while they were writing it. Woah, totally meta! And Neal Stephenson’s name is on it. I therefore want to read it. Also stars this decade’s favorite historical character, Richard Francis Burton.    priority – high

vN – by Madeline Ashby (July 2012) Looks sort of like the author took Asimov’s three laws of robotics and removed them from our main character android. Also, she’s part human? and the environs are kinda Bladerunner-ish? Sign me up for some of that!!    priority – high

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FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.