Autonomous Audiobook Review

“Autonomous” is a novel containing robots, pirates, and technology written by Annalee Newitz.  The Audiobook edition is well performed by Jennifer Ikeda.  I was interested in this book after reading is summary details, but I quickly found the book going in a different direction.  I personally thought a solid publisher such as Macmillan Audio would have vetted the story better than they had.  I found the book to be less about autonomy and science fiction than it was about gender, sex, swearing, and drug use; both recreational and prescription.  Every one of the characters had a mouth that would embarrass and make your sailor or trucker friends blush.  The vulgar words used are even spoken by the many robots which seemed to be out of character for a machine.  Topics involving sex or actual sexual scenes are prevalent and unnecessary in this book, and I was hoping for so much more than what I was given.  For science fiction and non-science fiction listeners, I cannot recommend this book unless you are looking for an erotic robot romance story.

The initial premise of the book revolves round big pharma (drug manufacturing companies) trying to protect their intellectual property (IP) so they can profit big; similar to today’s market place.  All the while, a different group of people try to reverse-engineer the drugs in the hopes of modifying its potency or releasing an “open-sourced” or generic versions in the hopes of sticking it to the big pharma companies.  This bio-hacking activity is conducted in the hope of reducing a drugs cost, enhancing it power or limiting the drug companies power.  The story takes place in the near future, where there are indentured servant robots desiring autonomy and no longer want to be slaves to their assigned roles.  Some of these robots’ struggle wanting to be autonomous.

What I liked about the book were some of the more futuristic concepts the author included such as targeted advertisement and continued issues with Asian (China) imports. The story took place in some rather interesting places.  Opening with a young pirate sailing in her submarine grabbed my attention from the start of the book but things quickly went downhill from there.  I will say this was a very difficult book to finish for me because I found the characters to be uninteresting, the blatant misuse of technology, and the author’s very forward liberal agenda.

This book is a perplexing story involving gender confusion, feminism, right-wing zings, along with loads of graphic and erotic sexual scenes (sometimes between robots) disguised as a contemporary science fiction book.  The book had more erotica than most romance novels.  The characters themselves were flat, having no dimension or details making them unique or interesting.  When I finished the book, which was a difficult task in itself, I had no attachment to any character nor did I feel the author addressed the autonomy issue satisfactorily.  The writing style of the book was young adult (YA) focused having a large amount of crude and crass humor, but the language and erotic content is intended for mature audiences only.  The story itself seemed very disjointed and confusing at times, and I never really felt like I could be a part of the world the author had created.

I found the science fiction and technology used in the book to be lacking research or having any sense of realism.  Often times technology lingo was thrown in without proper context with a hope of making the book sound technical or to have a science fiction feel.  The author included computer worms, network hacking (sprinkler systems), gene sequencing, protein folding, etc.  And in all situations, these technologies seemed to work without issue or consequences.  I found it quite entertaining when a robot would often have some special unknown ability save the day but it was hidden from the listener until it was needed to get the characters out of a situation.  I also had an issue with the way the robots would initiate communications with one another.  They would begin communicating with one another using human concepts of communication instead of computer-based protocols.  It was difficult to listen to two machines asking to talk to one another over a secure connection, and at times would even reuse the earlier agreed upon secure key; not a secure practice at all.  Only once did I remember two robots questioning one another’s authentication before authorizing a communication channel.

The book’s narration was decent and in most cases I feel the issues I had were related to the book’s content rather than its narration.  Overall the narrator’s performance was clear and lacking any audio artifacts such as swallows, page turns, etc.  In some circumstances, I would have like the voicing of the robots to be less what one thinks of from a 1980s robot speaking, but I understand the reason a voice like this was used.  The multiple characters were distinguishable and each seemed to have a personality by way of their voice.

For parents and younger readers, I am unable to recommend this book due the heavy erotica and vulgar language use.  There are also many topics which may not be appropriate for younger readers including some of the graphic violence.  This book is intended only for mature audiences.

I understand the time, effort, and sweat it takes to release a book, and I do not enjoy giving a book a low rating.  However, this book veers to far from it intended center by deploying a science fiction tojan horse that instead contains a very different agenda.  I wish the writing would have been more mature, the vulgar language reduced or removed, and the heavily erotic scenes toned down.  I think there was a good story idea that instead was covered in too much other minutiae making the journey very muddied.

Disclaimer: I was voluntarily provided this review copy audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator.

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