Book Review: Autonomous

Newitz, Annalee
3 stars = Pretty Good

Science fiction often seeks to answer the moral and ontological questions that we’ll soon face in future technological landscapes. When I picked up Autonomous, I was expecting an examination of artificial intelligence and the ability for robots and machines to eventually become sentient. Unfortunately, that was only about half of the book that I ended up reading. The fact that there were two dueling scientific topics in this book made its message muddled, let alone misleading. It really should have been branded/titled as a book about pharmaceuticals and the patent system that holds the healthcare system hostage.

While I’m sure the pharmaceutical elements of this story are accurate (at least in a fictional context), this wasn’t the reason I wanted to read Autonomous. Granted, telling two parts of the story—from the POV of the pirate chemist and from the POV of the law enforcement sent to catch her—was a good way to reveal the plot so that each POV doesn’t know what the other side knows. That being said, the AI element of this story seemed to be relegated to a sub-plot in the law enforcement POV that ended up being disappointing to me.

I’ll grant that realistic characters may not be likable characters, but in the end, I was not too fond of any of the characters in this book—with the AI being the one exception. I didn’t care for the chemist’s messy past just as much as I didn’t care for the clearly homophobic law enforcement officer. Would the “romance” in the story have been different if the AI’s origin was different? Sure, creating morally gray characters makes the story more real, but it ultimately just made me irritated with these individuals. And since the story didn’t know which scientific concept to pursue, the whole idea of the AI being “autonomous” could have been cut, and the plot really wouldn’t have changed at all, leading me to my initial statement that the title of this book is misleading.

A misleading title for a book about pharmaceutical piracy, I give Autonomous 2.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name
Benjamin M. W.