Autonomous

Autonomous

by Annalee Newitz

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765392077
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 09/19/2017
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 200,721
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Annalee Newitz is an American journalist, editor, and author of both fiction and nonfiction. She is the recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship from MIT, and has written for Popular Science, Wired, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She also founded the science fiction website io9 and served as Editor-in-Chief from 2008–2015, and subsequently edited Gizmodo. As of 2016, she is Tech Culture Editor at the technology site Ars Technica. Autonomous is Annalee's first novel.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

PIRATE SHIP

JULY 1, 2144

The student wouldn't stop doing her homework, and it was going to kill her. Even after the doctors shot her up with tranquilizers, she bunched into a sitting position, fingers curled around an absent keyboard, typing and typing. Anti-obsessives had no effect. Tinkering with her serotonin levels did nothing, and the problem didn't seem to be dissociation or hallucination. The student was perfectly coherent. She just wouldn't stop reimplementing operating system features for her programming class. The only thing keeping her alive was a feeding tube the docs had managed to force up her nose while she was in restraints.

Her parents were outraged. They were from a good neighborhood in Calgary, and had always given their daughter access to the very best pharma money could buy. How could anything be going wrong with her mind?

The doctors told reporters that this case had all the hallmarks of drug abuse. The homework fiend's brain showed a perfect addiction pattern. The pleasure-reward loop, shuttling neurotransmitters between the midbrain and cerebral cortex, was on fire. This chemical configuration was remarkable because her brain looked like she'd been addicted to homework for years. It was completely wired for this specific reward, with dopamine receptors showing patterns that normally emerged only after years of addiction. But the student's family and friends insisted she'd never had this problem until a few weeks ago.

It was the perfect subject for a viral nugget in the medical mystery slot of the All Wonders feed. But now the story was so popular that it was popping up on the top news modules, too.

*
Jack Chen unstuck the goggles from her face and squeezed the deactivated lenses into the front pocket of her coveralls. She'd been working in the sun's glare for so long that pale rings circled her dark brown eyes. It was a farmer's tan, like the one on her father's face after a long day wearing goggles in the canola fields, watching tiny yellow flowers emit streams of environmental data. Probably, Jack reflected, the same farmer's tan had afflicted every Chen for generations. It went back to the days when her great-great-grandparents came across the Pacific from Shenzhen and bought an agricultural franchise in the prairies outside Saskatoon. No matter how far she was from home, some things did not change.

But some things did. Jack sat cross-legged in the middle of the Arctic Sea, balanced on the gently curving, uncanny invisibility of her submarine's hull. From a few hundred kilometers above the surface, where satellites roamed, the sub's negative refractive index would bend light until Jack seemed to float incongruously atop the waves. Spread next to her in the bright water was an undulating sheet of nonreflective solar panels. Jack made a crumpling gesture with her hand and the solar array swarmed back into its dock, disappearing beneath a panel in the hull.

The sub's batteries were charged, her network traffic was hidden in a blur of legitimate data, and she had a hold full of drugs. It was time to dive.

Opening the hatch, Jack banged down the ladder to the control room. A dull green glow emerged in streaks on the walls as bacterial colonies awoke to illuminate her way. Jack came to a stop beneath a coil of ceiling ducts. A command line window materialized helpfully at eye level, its photons organized into the shape of a screen by thousands of projectors circulating in the air. With a swipe, she pulled up the navigation system and altered her heading to avoid the heavily trafficked shipping lanes. Her destination was on a relatively quiet stretch of the Arctic coast, beyond the Beaufort Sea, where freshwater met sea to create a vast puzzle of rivers and islands.

But Jack was having a hard time concentrating on the mundane tasks at hand. Something about that homework-addiction story was bugging her. Mashing the goggles over her eyes again, she reimmersed in the feed menu. Glancing through a set of commands, she searched for more information. "HOMEWORK FIEND CASE REEKS OF BLACK-MARKET PHARMA," read one headline. Jack sucked in her breath. Could this clickbait story be about that batch of Zacuity she'd unloaded last month in Calgary?

*
The sub's cargo hold was currently stacked with twenty crates of freshly pirated drugs. Tucked among the many therapies for genetic mutations and bacterial management were boxes of cloned Zacuity, the new blockbuster productivity pill that everybody wanted. It wasn't technically on the market yet, so that drove up demand. Plus, it was made by Zaxy, the company behind Smartifex, Brillicent, and other popular work enhancement drugs. Jack had gotten a beta sample from an engineer at Vancouver's biggest development company, Quick Build Wares. Like a lot of biotech corps, Quick Build handed out new attention enhancers for free along with their in-house employee meals. The prerelease ads said that Zacuity helped everyone get their jobs done faster and better.

Jack hadn't bothered to try any Zacuity herself — she didn't need drugs to make her job exciting. The engineer who'd provided the sample described its effects in almost religious terms. You slipped the drug under your tongue, and work started to feel good. It didn't just boost your concentration. It made you enjoy work. You couldn't wait to get back to the keyboard, the breadboard, the gesture table, the lab, the fabber. After taking Zacuity, work gave you a kind of visceral satisfaction that nothing else could. Which was perfect for a corp like Quick Build, where new products had tight ship dates, and consultants sometimes had to hack a piece of hardware top-to-bottom in a week. Under Zacuity's influence, you got the feelings you were supposed to have after a job well done. There were no regrets, nor fears that maybe you weren't making the world a better place by fabricating another networked blob of atoms. Completion reward was so intense that it made you writhe right in your plush desk chair, clutching the foam desktop, breathing hard for a minute or so. But it wasn't like an orgasm, not really. Maybe it was best described as physical sensation, perfected. You could feel it in your body, but it was more blindingly good than anything your nerve endings might read as inputs from the object-world. After a Zacuity-fueled work run, all you wanted to do was finish another project for Quick Build. It was easy to see why the shit sold like crazy.

But there was one little problem, which she'd been ignoring until now. Zaxy didn't make data from their clinical trials available, so there was no way to find out about possible side effects. Normally Jack wouldn't worry about every drug freak-out reported on the feeds, but this one was so specific. She couldn't think of any other popular substances that would get someone addicted to homework. Sure, the student's obsessive behavior could be set off by a garden-variety stimulant. But then it would hardly be a medical mystery, since doctors would immediately find evidence of the stimulant in her system. Jack's mind churned as if she'd ingested a particularly nasty neurotoxin. If this drug was her pirated Zacuity, how had this happened? Overdose? Maybe the student had mixed it with another drug? Or Jack had screwed up the reverse engineering and created something horrific?

Jack felt a twitch of fear working its way up her legs from the base of her spine. But wait — this shiver wasn't just some involuntary, psychosomatic reaction to the feeds. The floor was vibrating slightly, though she hadn't yet started the engines. Ripping off the goggles, she regained control of her sensorium and realized that somebody was banging around in the hold, directly behind the bulkhead in front of her. What the actual fuck? There was an aft hatch for emergencies, but how —? No time to ponder whether she'd forgotten to lock the doors. With a predatory tilt of the head, Jack powered up her perimeter system, its taut nanoscale wires networked with sensory nerves just below the surface of her skin. Then she unsnapped the sheath on her knife. From the sound of things, it was just one person, no doubt trying to grab whatever would fit in a backpack. Only an addict or someone truly desperate would be that stupid.

She opened the door to the hold soundlessly, sliding into the space with knife drawn. But the scene that met her was not what she expected. Instead of one pathetic thief, she found two: a guy with the scaly skin and patchy hair of a fusehead, and his robot, who was holding a sack of drugs. The bot was some awful, hacked-together thing the thief must have ripped off from somebody else, its skin layer practically fried off in places, but it was still a danger. There was no time to consider a nonlethal option. With a practiced overhand, Jack threw the knife directly at the man's throat. Aided by an algorithm for recognizing body parts, the blade passed through his trachea and buried itself in his artery. The fusehead collapsed, gagging on steel, his body gushing blood and air and shit.

In one quick motion, Jack yanked out her knife and turned to the bot. It stared at her, mouth open, as if it were running something seriously buggy. Which it probably was. That would be good for Jack, because it might not care who gave it orders as long as they were clear.

"Give me the bag," she said experimentally, holding her hand out. The sack bulged with tiny boxes of her drugs. The bot handed it over instantly, mouth still gaping. He'd been built to look like a boy in his teens, though he might be a lot older. Or a lot younger.

At least she wouldn't have to kill two beings today. And she might get a good bot out of the deal, if her botadmin pal in Vancouver pitched in a little. On second glance, this one's skin layer didn't look so bad, after all. She couldn't see any components peeking through, though he was scuffed and bloody in places.

"Sit down," she told him, and he sat down directly on the floor of the hold, his legs folding like electromagnetically joined girders that had suddenly lost their charge. The bot looked at her, eyes vacant. Jack would deal with him later. Right now, she needed to do something with his master's body, still oozing blood onto the floor. She hooked her hands under the fusehead's armpits and pulled his remains through the bulkhead door into the control room, leaving the bot behind her in the locked hold. There wasn't much the bot could do in there by himself, anyway, given that all her drugs were designed for humans.

Down a tightly coiled spiral staircase was her wet lab, which doubled as a kitchen. A high-grade printer dominated one corner of the floor, with three enclosed bays for working with different materials: metals, tissues, foams. Using a smaller version of the projection display she had in the control room, Jack set the foam heads to extrude two cement blocks, neatly fitted with holes so she could tie them to the dead fusehead's feet as easily as possible. As her adrenaline levels came down, she watched the heads race across the printer bed, building layer after layer of matte-gray rock. She rinsed her knife in the sink and resheathed it before realizing she was covered in blood. Even her face was sticky with it. She filled the sink with water and rooted around in the cabinets for a rag.

Loosening the molecular bonds on her coveralls with a shrug, Jack felt the fabric split along invisible seams to puddle around her feet. Beneath plain gray thermals, her body was roughly the same shape it had been for two decades. Her cropped black hair showed only a few threads of white. One of Jack's top sellers was a molecule-for-molecule reproduction of the longevity drug Vive, and she always quality-tested her own work. That is, she had always quality tested it — until Zacuity. Scrubbing her face, Jack tried to juggle the two horrors at once: A man was dead upstairs, and a student in Calgary was in serious danger from something that sounded a lot like black-market Zacuity. She dripped on the countertop and watched the cement blocks growing around their central holes.

Jack had to admit she'd gotten sloppy. When she reverse engineered the Zacuity, its molecular structure was almost exactly like what she'd seen in dozens of other productivity and alertness drugs, so she hadn't bothered to investigate further. Obviously she knew Zacuity might have some slightly undesirable side effects. But these fun-time worker drugs subsidized her real work on antivirals and gene therapies, drugs that saved lives. She needed the quick cash from Zacuity sales so she could keep handing out freebies of the other drugs to people who desperately needed them. It was summer, and a new plague was wafting across the Pacific from the Asian Union. There was no time to waste. People with no credits would be dying soon, and the pharma companies didn't give a shit. That's why Jack had rushed to sell those thousands of doses of untested Zacuity all across the Free Trade Zone. Now she was flush with good meds, but that hardly mattered. If she'd caused that student's drug meltdown, Jack had screwed up on every possible level, from science to ethics.

With a beep, the printer opened its door to reveal two perforated concrete bricks. Jack lugged them back upstairs, wondering the entire time why she had decided to carry so much weight in her bare hands.

CHAPTER 2

BOOTING

JULY 2, 2144

Sand had worked its way under Paladin's carapace, and his actuators ached. It was the first training exercise, or maybe the fortieth. During the formatting period, it was hard to maintain linear time; memories sometimes doubled or tripled before settling down into the straight line that he hoped would one day stretch out behind him like the crisp, four-toed footprints that followed his course through the dunes.

Paladin used millions of lines of code to keep his balance as he slid-walked up a slope of fine grains molded into ripples by wind. Each step punched a hole in the dune, forced him to bend at the waist to keep steady. Sand trickled down his body, creating tiny scars in the dark carbon alloy of his carapace. Lee, his botadmin, had thrown him out of the jet at 1500 hours, somewhere far north in African Federation space. Coming down was easy. He remembered doing it before, angling his body in a configuration that kept him from overheating, unfurling the shields on his back until they cupped the wind, then landing with a jolt to his shocks.

But this wasn't just another repeat of the same old obstacle course. It was a test mission.

Lee had told Paladin that a smuggler's stash was hidden somewhere in the dunes. His job was to approach from the south, map the space, try to find the stash, and come back with all the data he could. The botadmin grinned as he delivered these instructions, gripping Paladin's shoulder. "I tweaked some of your drivers just for this test. You're going to float up those dunes like a goddamn butterfly."

Now it was an hour until sundown, and Paladin's carapace bent the light until it slid below the visible spectrum. To human eyes, his dark body on the dune's summit would look like a shimmer of heat in the air, especially from a distance. That's what he was counting on, anyway. He needed to get a sense of the area, its hiding places, before anyone figured out a bot was prowling.

Pale, reddish swells softened the landscape in every direction. The sand was totally undisturbed — if anyone had been walking around here, the wind had blown their tracks away. The stash had to be underground, if it was even here at all. Paladin stood still, lenses zooming and panning, searching for a glint of antennas or other signs of habitation. He cached everything in memory for analysis later.

There it was: a crescent of chrome unburied by wind. He scrambled down the dune, making hundreds of small adjustments to avoid falling on the slithering ground, getting a precise location on a portal that probably led to a buried structure below. He would yank it open and get back to the lab. Lee would clean the sand from his muscles, and there would be no more of this grinding discomfort.

As Paladin reached out, ready to pull or torque the lock mechanism, a hidden sniper tore his right arm off at the shoulder. It was the first true agony of his life. He felt the wound explode across his whole torso, followed by a prickling sear of unraveled molecular bonds along the burned fringes of his stump. Out of this pain bloomed a memory of booting up his operating system, each program calling the next out of nothing. He wanted to go back into that nothing. Anything to escape this scalding horror, which seemed to pour through his body and beyond it. Paladin's sensorium still included his severed arm, which was broadcasting its status to the bot with a short-range signal. He'd have to kill his perimeter network to make the arm go silent. But without a perimeter he was practically defenseless, so he was stuck feeling a torment that echoed between the inside and outside of his body. Throwing himself down into the sand, Paladin used his wing shields to protect his remaining circuitry — especially his single biological part, nested deep inside the place where humans might carry a fetus.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Autonomous"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Annalee Newitz.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Dedication,
1. Pirate Ship,
2. Booting,
3. Private Property,
4. Iqaluit,
5. Good Science,
6. Side Effects,
7. The Bilious Pills,
8. Brains,
9. Prison,
10. Anthropomorphizers,
11. Free Lab,
12. The Human Network,
13. Retcon,
14. Other True Self,
15. Pirate Your Body,
16. No. 3 Road,
17. Slaveboy,
18. Vegas,
19. A Disturbing Workplace Accident,
20. Marketing Gimmick,
21. Moose Jaw,
22. Big Pharma,
23. Autonomy Key,
Acknowledgments,
About the Author,
Copyright,

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Autonomous 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Everything you could want in a robot/biotech/A I cyberpunk future adventure with likable characters on both sides of the conflict. Highly recommended .
19269684 More than 1 year ago
Because I review books, I do my best to stay on top of what's been recently released via Indie Authors and traditionally published authors. Sometimes I accomplish this. Other times, I'm playing catch up on some of the book stacks in my office. When I spotted Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz, I thought: This sounds like something I'd love to dive in to. At the time, I'd currently been in one physical book, so I purchased the audiobook. It's a sort of cop thriller, but the science fiction bits are what really drew me in. I loved the idea of independent cybernetic beings, and humans with cybernetic parts. Made me think of BladeRunner and The Lunar Chronicles, but more sciency. So Autonomous a good read? Picture Autonomous is the story of three characters. One sells scripts to keep the general public happy. The other is a set of officials who are trying to stop them. The first characters, Jack, sells drugs for a living but has realized the drug she's handling has caused an epidemic of erratic behavior in people. It's been tampered with and not for the better. Her guilt drives her to correct a wrong. The two officials, are doing their best to catch her- it doesn't matter that she's doing her best to make amends... or how she does it. She's guilty and needs to be caught! There was a great deal of potential in this book. Autonomous could have been perfect, but it was just too slow. It didn't hold me enough. The two officials, Paladin (a bot) and his human partner (Elias) were pretty cool, but Paladin was the most interesting of the two. Jack was boring and to me, didn't stick interest at all. She came off as a guilt-ridden Robin Hood- trying to give the people what they wanted. But They Were Drugs! It's written beautifully: prose, scientific subjects and dystopian world building and all, but it just didn't do the trick. Honestly, the world building wasn't that grand- I had trouble figuring it out. I didn't see what the author saw, making it difficult as well. You'll see. Check out Autonomous and become indebted to the drug... or not. Cheers! *https://www.areneehunt.com/the-reviews/autonomous Autonomous Annalee Newitz Published by Tor Books, September 2017 303 Pages
CaptainsQuarters 9 months ago
Well me mateys, while this be an interesting read, it certainly wasn't what I was expectin'. I somehow expected it to be much better. It started out with a brilliant quoting of "the last Saskatchewan pirate" which be a shanty that all me crew should know and love. The first main character we meet is the awesome pirate, Jack. Ye see Jack is a reverse pharmacological engineer who takes lifesaving drugs from the major tech companies and recreates them in order to give them to the poor. A pharma pirate Robin Hood. Yup I was on-board immediately. Jack sells other black-market "non-necessary" drugs as her side gig to make the money fer her larger calling. Only she just released a reversed batch of drug called Zacuity to get said funds and unfortunately it be havin' unintended consequences. Like death. Which goes against Jack's ideals and desires. Can she make it right or will the pharma companies catch up with her and run her through first? So yes great beginning. The central theme of the book seems to be that money in this version of the world does not make ye free and that everyone is either a literal slave to society or intellectually so. The world building was well done and realistic. The patent law in this book was a lovely concept. Everything belongs to someone else (usually a corporation) and so how money and information flows can be a mess. It isn't overbearingly done. I'm just a nerd. In addition to Jack there be robots and indentured humans and scientists etc. This is where I found most of me enjoyment of the book. I loved Paladin who is one of the military bots sent by the pharma to get Jack and to help quell any information about their drug having adverse consequences. Frankly Paladin was the reason this book was worth reading. Paladin is a recently made bot whose has the most growth in the novel. I very much enjoyed the perspective of this bot in terms of inter-robot interaction, trying to figure out how humans work, and personal exploration of how programming affected thought. Me other favourite character happened to also be a bot raised by human scientists. Unfortunately I found most of the humans to less multi-dimensional. Jack has so much promise and then makes extremely odd unintelligent choices while on the run. The human side-kick to Paladin has a sexual urge for the robot and the subplot got tiring. Also the pacing was uneven and several times made me want to stop reading. And the ending was abrupt and extremely unsatisfying. I am not unhappy that I read this but it ended up being just okay. Awesome ideas but not enough payout. I am not saying don't read this book. I just think there are better robot related books out there. Check out a recent read, sea of rust, for example. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for me honest musings. Arrr!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
surrounding AI, pharmaceuticals, body mods, and patent law. Did I miss anything? Very engaging story.
Millie_Hennessy More than 1 year ago
I received this book for free from Tor in exchange for an honest review. This book is challenging to review – there’s so much to talk about, but so much you just need to read! It’s fantastic and deep and exciting and full of biting social commentary (probably more than I picked up on.) In this future, there’s an array of fantastic tech, like perimeter systems for your body that lie invisibly over your skin and can shock people and such, moving tattoos, robotic body parts and other mods (there’s a character who declares he makes custom genitals – that’s right folks, welcome to the real future!) There are self-driving cars, motes of internet in the air (I’ll admit, I really didn’t grasp that bit) and almost anything can be 3-d printed. Jack even has a knife with an algorithm (boy, do I really hate those) that can target certain people! That might sound pretty sweet, but this world has its downsides too. For instance, medicines are patented and unless you can afford to buy the patent you’re not getting the meds. Enter Jack, the pirate who steals and reverse engineers medicines and drugs so that she can sell the drugs on the black market in order to give the medicines away for free (a modern day Robin Hood, if you will). If we thought the healthcare system was built for profit now, it’s got nothing on this version of the future. In addition to pharmaceutical patents, there are franchises. No, not the kind we have now where you can buy your own McDonalds. You buy a franchise to essentially buy your freedom. Jack’s father bought franchises for his children so that they would be allowed to live, work and even attend school in certain regions. Parents who can’t afford a franchise watch as their children are indentured after a certain age. Depending on the contract, the indentured may not live to gain their freedom (this aspect also speaks to the autonomy theme of the book.) Speaking of the indentured, most of the robots are “born” indentured. This is a rather significant part of the plot, as not everyone believes a bot should start their life that way. Most bots never finish their contract, despite ten-year limits. In theory, once their contract is finished, a robot can gain an autonomy key. I could probably write a book’s worth of thoughts on all this, but it’s better if you just read this book. I love the depth Newitz gives to the robots though. There’s a robot who was born autonomous, raised by humans and attended medical school. There’s a robot with a human brain used solely for image processing. There are gender-swaps, despite robots really being non-gendered. There are different levels of bot intelligence and autonomy too. They feel like real characters and I love them. Look, I could go on forever, so I’ll just say this book was a great read. Before I wrap up, I’ll leave you with my favorite quote: “He’s an outsider, too. Everybody is an outsider, if you look deep enough.” If you enjoy medical sci-fi (like Mira Grant’s Parasitology trilogy) and awesome robots with deep personalities (like C. Robert Cargill’s Sea of Rust) with a dash of found family (like Becky Chamber’s Wayfarers series) then I think you’ll enjoy Autonomous. I, for one, can’t wait for more fiction from Newitz and sincerely hope we see more of these characters.
Keladin More than 1 year ago
Autonomous is a highly entertaining cat-and-mouse story that muses on themes of healthcare, gender identity, and free will. It paints a future where anyone and anything can be owned if you had the money for it--this includes humans, robots, and yes, healthcare. It's also, unexpectedly, a love story. We switch between two primary POVs--Jack Chen, the anti-patent pirate, and Paladin, the newly minted military bot. Jack is a middle-aged bisexual Asian woman, which makes her a unicorn in the realm of SFF protagonists. She's gruff, kind of jaded, but still tries to root for the downtrodden. But the title of MVP has to go to Paladin. Paladin serves as bit of a contrast to Jack, being young and inexperienced, with a dash of wide-eyed naivete. They are insecure in their body image--believing themselves too big and bulky for people to feel at ease around them--and gets tongue-tied (so to speak) in social situations. The bot nevertheless persists in their efforts to understand and fit in with humans. They are at once endearing and relatable. Seeing Paladin grow in confidence and sense of self as the story progresses was by far my favourite part of the story. We get a diverse handful of secondary characters that orbit these two, all of whom are interesting and wonderfully flawed. On a side note, this is also the first non-Canadian novel I've read that features Saskatchewan and the lower mainland of British Columbia in any detail, so kudos to Annalee for that! Overall, this is a fun, intelligent read, and definitely one of the standout sci-fi novels of 2017.