Book Review: vN / Author: Madeline Ashby / Publisher: Angry Robot / Release Date: August 2nd
A vonNeueman machine is a mechanism that can make a copy of itself; and also the central conceit of Madeline Ashby’s vN, which is a novel about self-replicating androids and their relationship with humanity. Rather than being a clichéd romp filled with killer robots and mankind being hunted down by its unnatural creations, this is a book about what it means to be human and the things that we inherit from our parents.
The plot revolves around Amy, an android who has been raised in a loving environment with her human father and robot mother, an environment made all the easier when you realise that the androids are programmed to love humanity. Things go wrong when tragedy strikes and the general public realise that the machines may not be as caring as they’ve come to expect.
The initial explanation as to why the androids were invented is an amusing idea (I won’t spoil it for you), and is believable enough to explain why mankind has permitted the world to be filled with android replicas. However, as Ashby adds more detail to her world, the real origins of the machines become more apparent and are more disturbing. This lends a level of creepiness to the novel that it doesn’t really need – the story is interesting enough without this sort of horror and it actually breaks the flow of the story to some extent.
It also suffers, to some extent, by being the first part in a series. It feels incomplete and lacks a certain degree of perspective; the world feels very large in some areas and tiny in others. I suspect these aspects will get filled in later, it’s just a pity we have to wait.
vN is a strong debut novel; its central premise is interesting and Ashby draws us into a highly detailed and technologically literate world. Fans of Bladerunner, the Portal games and Raising Cain will find this an interesting read with more than a little bit of food for thought.