Imagine a future in which people designed models of androids to serve humanity. These androids were programed to follow Asimov's laws. A failsafe was programed in such that any android would malfunction upon witnessing any instance of human suffering.
A variety of different android models are introduced, all programed to serve humans in every imaginable way. The androids take in energy from metallic compounds that are specially manufactured and packaged to mimic human food. Every effort is made to uphold the appearance of equality. More advanced androids insist upon the "realness" of their affects and gain varying degrees of freedom as individuals (both socially and legally). Some androids and humans bond in marriage.
Such is the possible future in which the novel vN takes place. The androids are known as vN after John von Neumann and his theoretical, self-replicating machines.
Every effort is made for humans and vN to live in harmony. That is, the sort of harmony in which androids use their extraordinary strength and speed to prevent danger from befalling their human masters. Until one young android named Amy learns that her failsafe has either malfunctioned or never existed at all . . . Her parents (one human, one the previous iteration of the same model of vN as herself) take great pains to shield Amy from the event of a failsafe as even the sight of blood is enough to send a vN into a temporary shut-down.
This novel is a well-plotted and gripping yarn that will have you eager to find out what happens next. The story is very much an exploration of the problems presented by free will and how the idea of free agency can be compromised—by both choice and necessity. Questions of identity and gender are also probed.
The ideas presented in this book will not be entirely new for those of whom science-fiction is old hat. The surprise is in the execution of those ideas. Likewise, a science fiction virgin would not be overwhelmed with technical details as the future speculated here is in some ways not so far off. Aside from the advent of the vN, not much has changed on Earth in the indeterminate future in which this story takes place—other than a wee bit of continental drift.
Rudy Rucker has called this book a perfect blend of traditional SF with urban fantasy. I would say that this is a fair assessment as the story is as much adventure as it is science fiction.
In short, this book is highly recommended. You'll know if it's for you if the idea of cannabilistic self-replicating robots excites you Just to be sure, you could always check out the first few chapters.
Author: Madeline Ashby —an interesting footnote is that Ashby wrote a thesis on SF and holds a Master's Degree in Manga & Anime. Which means that she knows robots.
Published July 31, 2012 by Angry Robot Books, an imprint of Harper Collins
(Book I of The Machine Dynasty)