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Publisher's Summary

From award winning tech-journalist and io9 founder Annalee Newitz comes a highly anticipated science fiction debut!

Autonomous will pull listeners into a dark and dirty world that feels, at times, a bit too familiar.

Earth, 2144. Jack is an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, traversing the world in a submarine as a pharmaceutical Robin Hood, fabricating cheap scrips for poor people who can't otherwise afford them. But her latest drug hack has left a trail of lethal overdoses as people become addicted to their work, doing repetitive tasks until they become unsafe or insane.

Hot on her trail, an unlikely pair: Eliasz, a brooding military agent, and his robotic partner, Paladin. As they race to stop information about the sinister origins of Jack's drug from getting out, they begin to form an uncommonly close bond that neither of them fully understand.

And underlying it all is one fundamental question: Is freedom possible in a culture where everything, even people, can be owned?

©2017 Annalee Newitz (P)2017 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

"The uncertainty, fear, rage, despair, and, ultimately, hope that the robots experience are all perfectly voiced by Ikeda. A thrilling examination of intellectual property rights and personal identity." (AudioFile)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Robots, future drugs, slavery, and patent reform

In Annalee Newitz's Autonomous, we see the future of 2144 and what happens when drug patents never run out and the concept of selling people into slavery was brought back into fashion after corporations wanted to create sentient bots without losing their investment.

On one hand you have the story of Jack Chen, a drug pirate trying to fight a disastrous epidemic caused by a pharma giant's newest productivity booster that she reverse-engineered and sold on the streets. She's joined by a runaway human slave who's been treated like a robot his whole life and an autonomous robot doctor who's been treated like a human her whole life.

And on the other hand (there are a lot of hands in this book, literally), you have a human agent of the International Property Coalition and his endentured bot partner whose mission is to find Jack and take her out at any cost. The bot is just starting its life and learns a lot about bots, humans, autonomy, sex, and gender.

Autonomous creates an interesting future world that is relatable enough to our world that you might be able to see it in the distance, while exploring a lot of things I had never seen done before. It combines multiple forms of slavery with a realistic depiction of artificial lifeforms and their integration into society. It features a future that is generally more accepting of differences, while still not getting rid of the old prejudices entirely (and inventing a few new ones for good measure). It shows future drugs that chill me just to think of. There are a lot of new concepts but all are worked together in a smooth and believable fashion; Newitz's strong background in both science fiction and technology really shines through here.

Jennifer Ikeda does a great job with the narration, not all voices are extremely different from one another, but the differences are there when you need them. Robots sound monotonous or emotional as appropriate and a few different characters have distinct accents.

20 of 20 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A closer future than is comfortable

Newitz's vision of the future is impeccably grounded in the tech world she has lived and written about for years. She naturally extends patent law and intellectual property laws to a logical extreme, and grounds it in the relevant now of health-care and pharmaceutical politics. Her characters are inclusive and relatable across a wide spectrum of the human experience, and the overall shape of the book leaves both the protagonists and their opponents in a far more human state - the book ends in a gray area.

Like many works of Cyberpunk before it, Autonomous hits a little too close to home. I wouldn't have it any other way.

A note on Jennifer Ikeda's performance: it was overall very good, but lacked the flair necessary to make it a truly outstanding reading.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Interesting premise with a weird romantic subplot

It's unfortunate that we live in an age of hyperbole...while Autonomous is most definitely not the next Neuromancer, it is a fairly decent first attempt at science fiction.

The dystopian future setting with widespread genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and very strong patent enforcement is interesting, but I feel that Newitz doesn't quite do enough with it. I found the world-building aspects of Autonomous to be the most fun part of the book but the characters and overall plot line failed to keep me invested or engaged. I ultimately found the characters to be nearly hollow caricatures (with the exception of a particular biobot) since we aren't given enough to truly root for or despise anyone. Instead of feeling connected, I simply felt like a passive observer.

The thing that bugged me the most about this book is probably its romantic twist. While gender identity might be something that is hotly debated today, the world of Autonomous has already been set up by Newitz to be comfortable and even mildly accepting of the relationship she poses. It felt like a lot of effort was put into a plot point that lacked punch.

Overall, Autonomous is pretty interesting and moderately entertaining, and while it isn't exactly great, you could do much worse.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Drug lord Robin Hood with robotic romance

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz starts with a simple premise, a woman with a drug manufacturing capability who produces counterfeit expensive drugs to support her passion for making other life-saving drugs for poor people. At the same time, law enforcement partners, one who happens to be a robot are tracking Ms Robin Hood who has reverse engineered a new drug that happens to have some serious side effects such as killing people.

The main story is set a bit over 100 years into the future with occasional flashbacks about 25 years earlier. The main sci-fi elements amount to sophisticated drug development and manufacturing capabilities as well as advanced robots. Unfortunately, the basic premise of intellectual property, i.e. patents as the source of the problems of the day is a bit overdone and suggest someone with little background in this area. If the world were as described, then somehow in the intervening years, patents were changed to have infinite lifetimes and somehow, the world has allowed itself to fall under a single set of patent laws.

Law enforcement is also a bit loose with official investigators murdering any and all witnesses they question and staging suicide scenes. Also, pharma companies don't need to worry about bad drugs as "rich" people who can afford their drug can also afford medical care, but why they wouldn't just sue the pants off big pharma seems ignored. Also, if a single woman in a submarine can manufacture enough drugs to save small, poor countries from health care disasters, it begs the question why poor countries can't establish their own manufacturing facilities in submarines. Another bizarre aspect to this society is that at some point, intelligent robots were emancipated or could be become "autonomous", but at the same time, in some wired way it made sense that if robots could be autonomous, then humans could also become indentured as slaves to be bought and sold. This creates situations where humans are bought and sold for cheap labor, while robots can earn PhDs. Lastly, a lack of inside knowledge on the drug development process produces a situation where the mechanism of action of a dangerous drug is studied, an antidote is fashioned, tested on one mouse, and then the formula uploaded for doctors in hospitals to use in only five days.

Between the questionable ethics of making drugs for recreational abuse to support making life-saving drugs and robots struggling with gender identity issues and romantic feelings, the tale feels like an artificial world that doesn't quite make enough sense to exist. There is no attempt to offer how this transition occurred.

The narration is reasonably good, but with barely adequate character, especially gender discrimination making following conversations difficult at times.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Amazing, unique story

This story started off almost immediately building a world I could visualize, both fascinating and a little bleak, populated with characters that I cared about almost at once from their introductions. Everyone was a little damaged, a little confused, and just trying to do the best they could in the world around them. The narrator did a fantastic job of capturing the emotion of each character, and even managed to voice the bots in a way that made them both robotic and human. Normally I listen to books to help me focus at work; this book sucked me in so deeply I had to turn it off because I didn't want anything distracting me from the story being told, and then immediately start it back up the second I was through with the job.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Strephon
  • Springfield, VA, USA
  • 10-16-17

Soon to be a Major Motion Picture

Fast-paced and smart without losing depth or miring the listener in an inaccessible discourse of artificial intelligence, big pharma, or IT.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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I was expecting greatness...

First, let me say that I made it about two or three hours into the book before I gave up on it. So this is not a review based on the entire story. The narrator was not very animated and the narration droned. Monotonic does not describe it but comes very close. The authors fetish for bio-degradation was irritating after two or three hours. It seemed like she picked up on a buzz word and had to use every chance she had. Recycling would have made more sense in the future time frame this story is in. With bio-degradation you lose the materials. With recycling you save them and can reuse them. Her tech was at times perplexing. She can sequence a molecule and reproduce it exactly, but she has to painstakingly verify the molecule by direct observation? That makes no sense. If you have equipment that can do the analysis and synthesis, it surely can make a comparison for you. They have AI that can run human form robots but it can't run lab equipment? All in all, very disappointing. Just because a story takes place in the future, that doesn't make it science fiction. I am a science fiction snob. I like my science fiction to have actual science in it. Unless it is campy science fiction movies from the mid 20th century. Those are pretty awesome all on their own. The way this book was hyped I thought it was going to stand among the likes of Bradbury, Clarke or Heinlein. It is not. Not even close.

13 of 19 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Thourally enjoyed it

It’s got some slower periods, but the story is fair and presents a unique view of the future and a unique set of issues to plague the characters. It also has you to empathize with the warring sides. It’s a good listen.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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A groovy tale of robots, romance, and patent law

This was a good read. The voice actor and performance was spot on. I'm not going to talk about the plot, but what I will say is that it is a ride. Newitz knows exactly how to keep you interested into her story. However, I found the resolution to be good, but not great. It was realistic,as expected, and melodramatic. It's still worth every penny.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Weird AI Love novel

Not my cup of tea. The description barely touches on the details of this book. I started off intrigued! After a third way through however, it became apparent this is just basically a robot porn novel. Fifty shades of metal and biotechnology.

7 of 10 people found this review helpful