Author: Annalee Newitz
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: N/A, Standalone
Hardcover, 300 Pages
Publication: September 19, 2017 by Tor Books
Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.
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 Joe 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.
Like the title suggest, the main theme of the novel is autonomy. Autonomous features AIs, some born autonomous while other works towards that end goal. This idea doesn’t apply just to robots, as many humans find themselves indentured whether it is to people or corporations. Some humans find themselves unable to break free of the contract and live out their lives chained or worst (however you may look at it) death. Autonomous begs the questions, what is freedom and for those that have autonomy; are we truly free? Readers explore this question as we follow a pirate/smuggler named Jack who sells reverse-engineered pharmaceutical drugs on the black market for the low-income sector. And Paladin and Eliasz, IPC agents tracking Jack because they believe her black market drugs are the cause of hundreds of death across the U OF S.
The concept of the novel was interesting and I liked how Newitz incorporated so many themes within the story-line. And the pacing was great as there was never a dull moment. As far as world building goes, it wasn’t as developed as I liked. Newitz used a lot of fancy science terminology but never elaborated on the whole servitude issue with humans and AIs. I wished the author went more in-depth, on the world and its characters. One of the most important quality I look for in a book is whether or not it’s character driven. And sadly, Autonomous isn’t one of those novels. I never once connected or invested into the characters. The tag-line said Jack was a modern day Robin Hood, but I never got that impression. She didn’t steal from the rich to give to the poor. Yes, she did things that would benefit the poor but it definitely wasn’t a selfless act. And monetary gains was still one of the contributing factors if not notoriety.
Autonomous had some intriguing ideas and an array of important themes integrated into the plot such as equality, sexuality, ethics, 1st Amendment rights, cultural and societal issues but poor execution of world building and characters made for a problematic debut novel. I wished Autonomous lived up to the hype. I cannot recommend Autonomous, there are far better Sci-Fi novels that touches on the same themes, if not all.