Book Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz



Note the cream bedsheets; yes, I read it with class. Not pictured: infuser with sexy lavender oil.

I haven’t sat down and read an entire novel, in one sitting, in a really, really long time. I’m thinking since Peter Watts’s Starfish, back in 2005.

Autonomous took that prize.

I’ll give a non-spoiler version, and then after the read more tag, I’ll go quite a bit more in-depth with what I loved about this book. Also a few spoilers. BECAUSE HOLY SHIT. #professional

Quick overview: Autonomous takes place roughly 150 years from now, and centers on two groups of people: a drug pirate named Jack and her associates Threezed, Krish, Med, and those at Free Lab, and the IPC (Intellectual Property Commission? I think) duo of Eliasz and Paladin–an indentured robot–along with their support infrastructure.

A Big Pharma company creates a work efficiency drug that is intended to be marketed only to the wealthy. Jack reverse engineers it to be sold to the less fortunate, finds out it is highly addictive and damaging, and the pharma company wants to keep it under wraps. In turn, it sends its personal police to hunt down the terrorist (Jack) and keep the information secret/safe/profitable.

Overclocked with tech evolution, smart characters and smarter digital communications, and relationships that melded into the complexity of the story with clarity and power, Autonomous was just as interesting to read for the story as it was for the insight and depth of understanding for tech.

It covers themes of humanity, personhood, gender relations, technology relations, the complex nature of AI, patent law, Big Pharma, lawful vs. moral vs. ethical, security, and community (along with, I’m certain, lots I overlooked in the meantime).

I could be wrong, but I know of nobody else writing like this. And it is beautiful. If I had to give number score out of ten, I’d give it 9/10. It’s really, really, really that good. If you’re a tech nerd, if you’re a gamer, if you’re a digital humanities person, if you love science fiction, if you want a great read, get this book. It is a harmony of stories.

I’m getting a second copy just to share with a friend.  Continue reading


Prompt: Request

Good afternoon, WordPress friends!

For anyone interested in assisting me: if the world ended, and you had a way of cataloguing important people who died, and where, who would you include? I’m gathering a list to add to my novel Corpus Paradisum.

This is an homage to Ezra Pound’s Cantos, and how he catalogued all the artistic potential lost in World War I. Any help is greatly appreciated!


Hinting at Character in your Writing

Autumn Oak

            In the space just before dawn, when the sun warms the eyelids, he climbed a vined trellis, slipped through rooms of sleeping maidens, and tiptoed across the threshold to the King’s bedroom. Descending stairs, he found himself in the library, where morning sun reflected off motes of dancing dust and was absorbed by leatherbound books. He sank into a large chair, having found his favorite.

            He would stay here.

I failed NaNoWriMo this year. It was during finals, I had a bunch of life stuff going on, and I didn’t get it finished. But what I did do was start writing again.

I found, with my recent studies in Joyce overflowing my head, that I constantly try to hint at important aspects in my writing soas to not info dump a character’s history, background, opinion when the dialogue didn’t call for it. Sticking to a Joycean/Homeric focus, I’m writing an “epic” story with a play on the dramatic, where the novel is filled with short stories that take no more than a “day” in the life via dreams, old shorts written for advertisement, etc. So my main character is developed, strong, rounded. I use metaphor sparingly, but with an emphasis on church and chastity.

Continue reading

Writing Retreat: or, How to Avoid Writing

This week marks the first time I actively took a break from my 8-630 job to pursue writing. And, as expected, I spent most of that time putzing around, re-reading old works to get caught up to where I COULD write, and essentially removing myself from the world to continue doing what I do worst. Continue reading

What is the Bechdel Test (and Other Tests), as it Pertains to Writing?

Mako Mori, via Pacific Rim.

Mako Mori, via Pacific Rim.

I was doing research over at Red Sofa Literary, and under one of the literary agent’s (Laura Zats) scifi/fantasy reading requirements, I read “must pass either the Mako Mori or Bechdel tests.” I know who Mako Mori is, given I have an anime/manga obsessed friend who absolutely loved Pacific Rim (she’s one of two protagonists in the film), but I didn’t know she had a test to go along with her character. I’ve never heard of Bechdel, so I decided to dig deeper.

Research on Wikipedia (I know! Super-high tech research engine) shows they are “feminist” tests in movies. What does this mean?

Continue reading

What Is Modern Zombie Fiction? (And Who Cares?)

(I do.)

Zombie literature has always been a fascination for me. Why? Because the idea of a “zombie” should be really, really lame. I mean, some dead thing moaning, lumbering around, existing only to kill you and make you one of them. And most (recent) zombie literature is pretty lame, too. What’s the big deal?

From someone who has spent a long time reading/studying/writing gothic, the macabre, and horror, I find the idea of the zombie fascinating for a number of reasons–and not just the gothic, macabre, horrific reasons. While it seems a simple idea, a simple form of writing, it can actually be much more complex than most would realize. Let me elaborate. Continue reading

Unemployment=Writing Time? No!

Yes, actually. I cleaned up a lot of work, spent an inordinate amount of time proofreading a mind-bending novel (I, Pawn Dreamer), a Modern Fantasy (David and His Shade), and several short stories. I’ve also spent a lot of time crashing and burning.

I don’t know about the rest of you writers out there, but for every finished novel I false start two or three times. Lately that number has been down because I only wrote promising stories I spent a lot of time thinking about. Given my lack of scholarly employment OR debate, my social time is stunted and stilted, leading to a lot of “COOL!” ideas that fizzle due to lack of stimulation.

In fact, in the past four days I’ve rekindled my interest in the first novel I finished–irreparable and will likely ne’er see the light of day, mind you–due to the voracious worldbuilding I underwent to make the silly thing work. I’ll spare the gritty details, but a career warrior and a career scholar, two brothers, return home to find their mother dead after living nearly ten years in a mausoleum and wonder why. Scholar finds trapped gods. Warrior finds secret societies, plots, and violence ensues. Warrior even finds a warrior woman that is cooler than he is. In the end, Scholar inavertently finds the answer to his nagging question–why did she live in the mausoleum–by breaking a seal for a god. Warrior finds the answer to HIS nagging question–why did she die in the height of her health–by killing his treacherous neighbor and starting a kingdom-wide war on the most powerful secret society ever. Yum, right?

Bore. Maybe not. Too much proofing required to fix it up. Too much work. It’s in dual first-person narrative, difficult to read, and regurgitates the same scenes through two different eyes. Like a murder-mystery where everyone knows some pieces but not the whole deal, and everyone’s violently prideful to the point of keeping everything to its, collective, self.

Right. So the religions in the story are brilliant, and although the story itself is a little too Whodunnit for my taste, the religions are worth holding onto.

Nonetheless before I got to the point of screaming, Eureka! at the worldbuilding, I fizzled on a time-travel novel that might never be finished now (even though the basis is strong and solid). I also fizzled on something else, but I can’t remember exactly what.

That’s the lack of inspiration for you. I live in a poor box, with four poor walls, and a poor bathroom, with bills that need to be paid. True, drama and dreaming are the only two ways I write with inspired breath, but this kind of drama saps me. I need social interaction (that’s free, no less), I need connections with the rest of the world, and I need a towering amount of debate. NOBODY IN AMERICA LIKES TO DEBATE ANYMORE. The moment you say, “I don’t agree,” they say, “I’m offended.” End of debate.

I wish I had Neil Stephenson on speed dial just to call at all hours of the night and debate. In America, art is dead. Creativity is wishy-washy and requires affluence (or underage writing. Never let your kids pursue major publication before they’re 21. If they’re old enough to drink, they’re old enough to write). People are scared of people. This shouldn’t be the case.

Too much Big Brother up in this piece. Anyway, the unemployment might be over as soon as Monday next week, and I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled writing.

Oh, my latest project mutated into a four-generation post-apocalyptic story that winds around to present day, then to the future. Talk about a mind-bend. My Black Box is civilization simply repeats itself in a 200k year arc of civilization, separated by ice ages, with the same people playing the same parts over and over again. Kind of like Cloud Atlas but it’s much less about Causality and Karma and much more about the infinite soul. Seacrest, out.