Shelf Control #215: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.pngTitle: Autonomous
Author: Annalee Newitz
Published: 2017
Length: 303 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Autonomous features a rakish female pharmaceutical pirate named Jack who traverses the world in her own submarine. A notorious anti-patent scientist who has styled herself as a Robin Hood heroine fighting to bring cheap drugs to the poor, Jack’s latest drug is leaving a trail of lethal overdoses across what used to be North America—a drug that compels people to become addicted to their work.

On Jack’s trail are an unlikely pair: an emotionally shut-down military agent and his partner, Paladin, a young military robot, who fall in love against all expectations. Autonomous alternates between the activities of Jack and her co-conspirators, and Elias and Paladin, as they all race to stop a bizarre drug epidemic that is tearing apart lives, causing trains to crash, and flooding New York City.
 

How and when I got it:

I bought myself a copy over a year ago, when I had an Amazon gift card burning a hole in my pocket.

Why I want to read it:

I mean… it just sounds amazing, right? A pharmaceutical pirate traveling in a submarine? A military robot who falls in love? A mystery drug epidemic? And whoa, a drug that “compels people to become addicted to their work”? *shudder*

This book sounds quirky and exciting and so much fun! I need to make it a priority!

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!

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Have fun!

Murderbot is back! Rogue Protocol – book #3

Murderbot returns for a 3rd adventure!

Thank you, Tor Books, for the review copy of Rogue Protocol!

The Murderbot Diaries
Book #3 – Rogue Protocol

(160 pages, published August 7, 2018 by Tor)

SciFi’s favorite antisocial A.I. is again on a mission. The case against the too-big-to-fail GrayCris Corporation is floundering, and more importantly, authorities are beginning to ask more questions about where Dr. Mensah’s SecUnit is.

And Murderbot would rather those questions went away. For good.

My thoughts:

What’s not to love about a cantankerous SecUnit who’d really rather just be left alone? Too bad for Murderbot that those darn softy, squishy humans keep getting in its way and requiring its protection. So what’s an exasperated AI to do? In Rogue Protocol, Murderbot once again sneaks its way onto a transport filled with humans on a secret mission, this time looking for evidence against the nefarious GrayCris Corporation. But of course, nothing goes as planned, since the humans involved end up needing looking after, even though they’re not technically Murderbot’s to worry about.

I’ll be honest and say that the action feels a little opaque to me. Lots of hatches and corridors and whatnot… lots of energy blasters and armor and drones… It’s all quite energetic and high-speed, but the technical mumbo-jumbo tends to make my eyes glaze over.

Still, what redeems these novellas for me is the fabulous voice of Murderbot itself, who is just as fed up as always. Why can’t the poor AI just enjoy its media feeds in peace?

I’ll leave you with a few choice snippets of Murderbot ruminations:

This was going to be even more annoying than I had anticipated, and I had anticipated a pretty high level of annoyance, maybe as high as 85 percent. Now I was looking at 90 percent, possibly 95 percent.

Who knew being a heartless killing machine would present so many moral dilemmas.

(Yes, that was sarcasm.)

Right, so the only smart way out of this was to kill all of them. I was going to have to take the dumb way out of this.

If you’re a sci-fi fan and haven’t yet experienced Murderbot, definitely give these novellas a try! Now is a great time to jump in — the 4th (and final?) book is due out in October.

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Book Review: Robots vs Fairies – edited by Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe

 

A unique anthology of all-new stories that challenges authors to throw down the gauntlet in an epic genre battle and demands an answer to the age-old question: Who is more awesome—robots or fairies?

Rampaging robots! Tricksy fairies! Facing off for the first time in an epic genre death match!

People love pitting two awesome things against each other. Robots vs. Fairies is an anthology that pitches genre against genre, science fiction against fantasy, through an epic battle of two icons.

On one side, robots continue to be the classic sci-fi phenomenon in literature and media, from Asimov to WALL-E, from Philip K. Dick to Terminator. On the other, fairies are the beloved icons and unquestionable rulers of fantastic fiction, from Tinkerbell to Tam Lin, from True Blood to Once Upon a Time. Both have proven to be infinitely fun, flexible, and challenging. But when you pit them against each other, which side will triumph as the greatest genre symbol of all time?

There can only be one…or can there?

This awesome story collection has a premise spelled out in the introduction by the editors:

“I, for one, welcome our __________ overlords.”

Assuming the mechanical and/or magical revolution has already taken place by the time you read this, we, the editors, always knew you would come out on top. Yes, you.

We knew this day would come. We tried to warn the others. It was obvious either the sharp rate of our technological advancement would lead to the robot singularity claiming lordship over all, or that the fairies would finally grow tired of our reckless destruction of the natural world and take it back from us.

And so, we have prepared a guide to assist our fellow humans in embracing their inevitable overlords. (If you are reading this and you are human, we are so pleased you found this book in time to ready yourself for the impending/current robot/fairy apocalypse. You are quite welcome.)

Robots vs Fairies is an anthology of stories by an impressive assortment of sci-fi and fantasy writers, each focusing on either robots or fairies (or in a few cases, both). There are eighteen stories in all, ranging from silly to darkly serious. In each case, right after the story, the author declares him/herself “team robot” or “team fairy”, and explains why — and these little pieces are just as entertaining as the stories themselves, in my humble opinion.

As I’ve said in many a review, I’m really not a short story reader, so the fact that I made it all the way through this book is somewhat of an achievement. I did end up skipping 2 or 3 stories that just didn’t call to me, but otherwise read them all, even the ones that left me puzzled or disengaged or with a mighty shoulder shrug.

Still, the stories that I enjoyed, I really, really enjoyed. Best of the batch for me were:

Build Me a Wonderland by Seanan McGuire: Well, of course I loved the Seanan McGuire story! I’m been on a roll with Seanan McGuire books all year, so there’s really zero chance that I wouldn’t love what she wrote. In this story, we see behind the scenes at a theme park with really magical magical effects. Hint: They’re not CGI. The story is clever and intricate and very much fun.

Quality Time by Ken Liu: Ooh, a disturbing robot story! All about a young tech worker looking for the next big breakthrough, whose inventions have unintended consequences.

Murmured Under the Moon by Tim Pratt: About a human librarian given responsibility for fairy archives. Creative and magical and just a wee bit threatening — and hey, it’s about a library! What’s not to love?

The Blue Fairy’s Manifesto by Annalee Newitz: Not a fairy story! It’s a robotic version of Pinocchio, and asks all sorts of great questions about what it is to be real, and what it means to have choices.

Bread and Milk and Salt by Sarah Gailey: I loved Sarah Gailey’s American Hippo novellas, so was really excited to see her included in this collection. Bread and Milk and Salt is probably the creepiest story of the bunch, about a fairy captured by a sadistic human and how she turns things around. Dark and disturbing and delicious.

And perhaps my favorite, because I love John Scalzi and his humor, and this story left me rolling on the floor:

Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind From the Era of Humans For the First Time: Oh my. This story is exactly what the title says it is — a dialogue between robots trying to figure out the purpose and functionality of human objects such as a ball, a sandwich, and a cat. Just amazing. And in case you’re wondering about our future overlords, it would seem clear that it’s cats for the win.

There are plenty more stories, some I found captivating, some weird, all original and entertaining and often perplexing too. It’s really a strong collection, and I could see enjoying it either as a book to read straight through, or as a collection to leave on the nightstand and pick up from time to time to read just one story here or or there, whenever the mood strikes.

As a side note, I had purchased an earlier collection from these editors, featuring some of the same authors plus several others whose works I love. The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales was published in 2016, and I have yet to open it. Maybe it’s time for it to come down off the shelf and sit on my nightstand, close at hand for when I need a story or two.

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The details:

Title: Robots vs Fairies
Authors: Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: January 9, 2018
Length: 373 pages
Genre: Science fiction/fantasy anthology
Source: Purchased

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Murderbot! Books 1 & 2 of Martha Wells’s amazing sci-fi adventure series.

For sci-fi lovers looking for something fresh, new, and quick, the Murderbot Diaries novellas are sure to rock your world!

Thank you, Tor Books, for the review copy of Artificial Condition!

Book #1 – All Systems Red
(144 pages, published May 17, 2017 by Tor)

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

My thoughts:

This novella is fast, fun, and engaging, with plenty of action and lots of humor to go with it. First of all, what makes this a great read is the first-person narration by Murderbot itself (or SecUnit, as the rest of the team refer to it). Murderbot, having hacked the module that forces it to blindly follow orders, really just wants to be left to its own devices — mainly so it can focus on watching all the serialized entertainment feeds that it’s downloaded.

As Murderbot and the crew of the expedition find themselves in unexpected danger from an unknown enemy, Murderbot — uncomfortably and unwillingly — ends up caring much more than it intends to about its group of humans. Its attempts to protect the humans earns it their trust and friendship, and that’s almost too weird for it to be able to deal with.

I really love the Murderbot character and the many funny moments focused on its reactions to social settings and interactions. While some of the action is a bit hard to follow, it doesn’t really matter all that much. It’s a good, well-drawn, fast-paced adventure, with ups and downs and high drama. The ending makes clear that there’s much more to come and much more to know about Murderbot, which leads us to…

Book #2 – Artificial Condition
(159 pages, published May 8, 2018 by Tor)

It has a dark past – one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”.

But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more.

Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the “A” stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue.

What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…

My thoughts:

Artificial Condition picks up where All Systems Red leaves off, and it’s just as awesome this time around to accompany Murderbot on its quest for the truth about its own past. Murderbot’s partnership with ART starts off with annoyance, but before long they’re watching the serials together on their feeds and doing some truly masterful hacking of pretty much every security system they find.

Murderbot gets the answers it’s looking for, and meanwhile gets involved with yet another group of vulnerable humans who desperately need its protection. Of course, it can’t help feeling responsible for them, and takes care of them and resolves their crisis in the most Murderbot-ish way possible.

I absolutely adore being in Murderbot’s head. I will never get tired of how it thinks, especially how it thinks about humans.

Part of my job as a SecUnit was to give clients advice when they asked for it, as I was theoretically the one with all the information on security. Not that a lot of them had asked for it, or had listened to me. Not that I’m bitter about that, or anything.

I felt this would be the point where a human would sigh, so I sighed.

“Tlacey bought us passage on a public shuttle,” Rami told me. “That could be a good sign, right?”

“Sure,” I said. It was a terrible sign.

A self-aware, self-determining robot with a sense of humor and an unquenchable thirst for watching TV will never get old for me. The Murderbot books are a blast. Can’t wait for #3, coming in August.

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