AUTONOMOUS, Annalee Newitz
Tor Books, 2017
eBook, preview excerpt
You might know Annalee Newitz from her editorship of excellent SF culture website io9 and tech sites Gizmodo and Ars Technica, or from her extensive non-fiction writings, including Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction from Doubleday and Anchor (which I bought for my e-reader as soon as I became aware of it). Autonomous is Newitz’ first science fiction novel, and she brings all her prescient sciencey genius to the table. I’ve only read a preview except so cavet lector: that’s all I’m talking about.
Autonomous takes place in a near-ish future where countries are not quite as they are now, and quality of life depends on what medications you have access to—medications which are tightly controlled by patents and pricing. It’s America’s healthcare system turned up to eleven and gone international.
It follows Jack, a conscientious drug pirate who starts the book sailing the antarctic seas in her drug-smuggling submarine, as well as a mercenary robot, Paladin, and its new partner, Eliasz, as they investigate the catastrophic side effects of a new and hyped productivity drug.
This drug is the thread that links the characters together. It’s a productivity enhancer that works by associating the pleasure normally linked to satisfying mild addiction to work. In Newitz’ world, it’s not the first of its kind, but one of a host of similar drugs. The thing that marks this one out is how it backfires: producing a far, far stronger reaction than anticipated, literally working people to death.
It’s a world informed by years of on-the-pulse futurist science and speculation, and as a result feels totally plausible, and low-key terrifying for that. And it’s not only the prospect of a world subject to the horrible conditions of American-style ‘healthcare’, but the idea of humans willingly drugging themselves into greater productivity in a capitalist dystopia—and that’s before the drug starts literally killing people.
Given I’ve only read a preview, I can’t say how the book will eventually unfold and what happens to Jack, Paladin and Eliasz. But I know for sure I need to find out at the earliest possible opportunity.