“Whilst not being a bad book ‘Autonomous’ tries too hard and ultimately falls short of its intended goal.”

Title: Autonomous
Author: Annalee Newitz
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-0-356-51120-7
Release Date: 15th March 2018

I have been in two minds about whether to post my review for this book ever since finishing it. Like a lot of book bloggers I am not a fan of giving negative assessments on novels; writers put A LOT of time and effort into the creation of a book and, unlike when giving my thoughts on movies, criticising a book just feels a lot more personal. Having spent a large portion of my life writing I know how much of myself I have put into my prose, so if someone was to say a bad thing about my writing it would sting, if only a little. But I want this thing (*motions towards the site as a whole*) to be seen as a legitimate source, not that people who avoid giving negative reviews are not legitimate sources, I just want to present a full spectrum of my thoughts… So, with that in mind.

I did not like this book.

I have read [far too] many bad books in my life, Autonomous is not one of them, yet I had difficulty making my way through it; at least once or twice a chapter I read something that drew me out of the world the novel inhabits, leading me to question the reason why author Annalee Newitz presented the events in such a way.

Autonomous is definitely an ambitious book and a hell of a debut, yet it feels like it is trying too hard, ultimately falling short of its perceived goal. The novel attempts to shine a light on the thoughts surrounding what it means to be alive / the idea of humanity / free will plus the moral implications inherent with them, whilst offering discussions on intellectual property and the expansion of large commercial entities. Yet by having such a broad scope I feel that not enough time was given to each element; to paraphrase a great television show – all of the plot points felt half done, I would have much preferred to have seen less ideas crammed into the book and more focus on what remained.
One of my main points of contention with the novel comes in the form of the “love story” that is used to parallel the thoughts on free will and what it means [for a robot] to be alive. Pushing aside the links to transgender politics – mainly because I am in no way qualified enough to discuss such a thing, plus the insistence of the robot characters that they have no gender and that it is just an anthropomorphism placed on them by the humans –  when the ‘relationship’ parts of the story came up I became very uncomfortable as, based on the whole free will thing, I had a hard time gathering whether one of the participants actually gave their consent to the events that transpired, even when it was apparently given it was worded in such a way that I doubted the individual involved fully understood what was going on. Whether this was the authors intention I do not know (It’s a possibility especially considering the theme of indenture and slavery that runs throughout the novel) yet I could not help but link the whole process to a robotic form of sexual assault. This marked my thoughts of the characters involved, which only made my continued reading of the book harder as they appear rather prominently throughout.

Another thing that I had difficulty with was that many of the events seemed to occur by chance. A character was looking for a specific individual and just so happened to find someone who knew them within moments of looking, or they needed an invitation into an event and just so happened to be given it by a stranger despite sharing hardly any dialogue with them. Everything felt like it was set along a linear path, that everything was pre-destined. Now if this was worked into the discussion of a characters free will – by perhaps having a human question whether they were indeed human and not a machine – then this coincidental means of story telling would have added to the intrigue, yet within this particular story it just felt lazy as the characters did little to progress throughout the narrative; the story came to them rather than the other way around.

As mentioned earlier this is by no means a bad book. I just had a hard time enjoying it based on my interpretation of the events within it.


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