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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
vN (Angry Robot) (First Machine Dynasty 1)
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on 24 November 2017
Interesting but I little confusing at times. I like the twists in the plot and the characters. A good little read.
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on 24 April 2013
I have had vN on my reading pile for a few months now, and decided to finally crack it open after a good run so far of reading and being wonderfully surprised by Angry Robot's publishing choices. I'd heard good things, and was hoping for more of them. I got ... some of those good things. I prefer my glass half full. That said, I was a bit underwhelmed by the overall result, as I will attempt to explain...

First, the good points. I was fascinated by Ashby's creations, the vNs themselves. The idea of self-replicating androids seemed like an interesting, slightly creepy take on robots. It is interesting - and also creepy, but mostly interesting. Amy Peterson's take on the world, and on herself and others like her, was a convincing mix of human, thanks to her upbringing, and not entirely human (because, y'know, robot). The presence of Portia, her 'malfunctioning' hard-line grandmother, provides most of the creep factor I mentioned, and helps to throw Amy's innocence into clearer relief. Likewise, her friendship with Javier, another vN who is driven to iterate (self-replicate) as often as possible, provides an intriguing relationship as Amy goes on the run.

All of these things were interesting, but to raise my main point against the book, they were only interesting. They didn't leap off the page and seize me by the imagination; there was no moment while reading this book that I got lost in the story, unable or unwilling to put it down. After some thought, I suspect this is due to how difficult I found it to really connect with Amy as a character - or, as is probably fairer to say, as a relatable human character. If I'm being honest I found Javier more realised, more engaging, than I found Amy.

My background-digging on this book and its author informs me that Madeline Ashby is a big fan of anime and manga, and though I'm not that much of a fan of it myself, I can sort of see a bit of that influence here, in the style in which she writes. That said, for me personally this is not much of a plus. Anime/manga is not my thing because to put it really simply, I don't Get It. Likewise, while I like the ideas contained here, I suspect very strongly that I just Don't Get It.

This isn't a criticism of Ashby or her work, however; it works for her, and clearly works for her publisher and for a lot of other people who've read this, I've no doubt. It just didn't work for me as much as I had hoped.

However, the Second: a bit more digging for info on the next Machine Dynasty book, iD, tells me it's apparently more focused on Javier than Amy. So there's every chance I'll give it a try, and the series a second chance. Glass half full, after all...
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on 5 May 2013
I don't know what to make of this book. It was ok I guess, Vague it parts, not so much in others. For example in one part of the story the male hero resuces the female hero. Both have been captured and just in the nick of time he is there to rescue her, but there is no explaination as to how he was planning on escaping, or how he does it during his escape, or even how he did it after the scene had past. All you got was he is suddenly there, made the rescue and the story moves on. It felt like the author had an idea and couldn't get the words down fast enough, so much so that she left bits out.
This is a constant theme through out the book. The discription of the areas they were in were lacking, and disjointed, for example, a scene would open explaining they where in a large building, as they traveled through the building you felt like you had missed a page or two as the scene changed. They had arrived at the building, no description of them entering it, but they suddenly on a bridge then the next thing they are in the ocean. What happened to the building? where did the bridge come from?
On the plus side I loved Amy, Javier, and Junior, Grandma was totaly nasty and you really wanted to see her get her come-uppance. It had its sad points and its exciting points. Over all I gave this book three stars maily due to its vagueness, and waiting for something to happen.
I will probably read the next book with a view of hoping that it is a better book
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on 15 March 2013
vN: The First Machine Dynasty
Author: Madeline Ashby
Publisher: Angry Robot
Page count/size: 332pp
Release Date: 29 July 2012
Reviewer: Steve Jones

vNs are humanoid robots created by a religious sect to be companions for the unfortunate humans left behind after The Rapture which never happened. When the cult collapses in a storm of abuse allegations the vNs are left to survive in a mostly uncaring world. vN is derived from von Neumann machine as they can reproduce by iteration, which leads to a generational divide as each iteration is supposedly better than its predecessor. A "failsafe" disables vNs if they are violent to humans or even see a human get hurt.

Amy is the sole iteration of Charlotte who lives with her human husband Jack. Amy is kept small by her parents restricting her diet so that she grows at the same rate as organic children. This leaves Amy permanently hungry so, when her grandmother Portia attacks the school she attends and kills a human child, Amy kills Portia by eating her alive. This rouses human suspicions that the failsafe has been disabled in her entire clade of vNs. She is taken away in a big white van (labelled "Isaac's Electronics"!) and escapes with Javier, a serial iterator (he constantly creates and abandons immature vNs).

This book takes a different take on the development of robots from the usual "Destroy all humans" and "Become more human" cliches where the robots are just a reflection of our own fears and desires. Jack's attempts to raise Amy as a human child turn out to be well-meaning but seriously misguided. The vNs need to find their own answers to getting along with humans and their own kind.

There are a few flaws. Amy's escape from the scientists who try to dismantle her seems too easy, and does not lead to the total human paranoia about killer robots I would expect. The back of the book lists four titles which sound like a series of books but instead describe the four sections of this book, while not matching the fourteen chapter headings. Maybe this book was written as four novellas which were combined into a single book.

All in all, vN is a thrilling adventure story with a well-developed cast of both humans and vNs, which challenges the meaning of being a person without ever being preachy about it.
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on 14 April 2014
Amy is a robot. Amy eats grandmother. Nice touch.

Amy goes on the run. Amy gets attacked. Amy fights back. Amy gets captured. Amy gets rescued. Loop.

That's somewhat unfair of me, but at one level, that's mostly what happens. She regenerates after injury, which happens a lot. She acquires traits of other robots she eats. She ought to be invincible, and sometimes, when it suits the plot, she is. Other times, she's inexplicably weak, gets captured. Whenever she's about to be eaten, Javier rescues her, even if he appears to have abandoned her / been captured himself. No explanation, just rabbits popping out of hats.

At another level, there's the concept of the self-replicating robot, the failsafe (aka Asimov's 3 laws), the dual vN-human culture, some interesting world building.

In the end, I never built up much sympathy for Amy. For all her power, she is tossed about by events, and reacts rather than initiates. The last 40 pages were a high speed dash for the finish.
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on 28 July 2012
I've started and restarted this review about a half-dozen times. Not because I don't have anything to say about vN, because I assuredly do - when do I not? - but rather because I don't know where to start. There is so much to say about vN, from the characters to the basic premise, to the writing and the power of the story, it's hard to begin. So I'll jump in at the shallow end, my shallow end, and comment on the gorgeous cover. I'd already read the blurb for vN and I thought it sounded rather interesting and then I saw the cover and I knew I wanted to read it. How gorgeous is that cover?

The premise of vN, that of a humanoid robot whose fail safe against harming humans fails and her flight and consequent search for her identity and a place of safety, was intriguing from the get-go. The idea and execution of the von Neumann machines is amazing and utterly enthralling. I fell in love with their idea of self-replication, or iteration as it is called in the book. The fact that they are born with certain in-born traits and abilities, but can and will be taught other skills by their parent, plays with the idea of nature versus nurture. vN's aren't born as blank slates, they have certain things, such as their mother tongue or special vocational skills, programmed in, but have to be taught certain other facts of life, such as the failsafe. For the children from a human/vN relationship this means that a lot of their character can be imprinted not just by the vN parent, but by the human parent as well. However, the question remains whether vN children can develop their own characteristic regardless of programming and parenting, a question which I had to ask myself several times about Amy's development. Because Amy is definitely more than the sum of her parts, both physically and mentally. At the same time there is a strange dichotomy between a vN's age, their physical appearance and their mental development. A vN can be kept from maturing physically through a rigorous diet, which pretty much amounts to starvation, so they can look like a seven-year old and actually be over fifty. In the same vein, if continuously fed to satiation a vN can turn into an adult practically overnight and even have several iterations before turning a year old. In Amy's case she's been slow-grown on the starvation-diet and is treated like a very precocious five-year-old; when she consumes her grandmother she suddenly matures way beyond her mental age and it's interesting to see how she adjusts to the situation, there are moments where she longs for the security of an adult to make her decisions for her.

Amy's character development, some of which I touched on above, is central to the story, she goes from a little girl to a strong, independent woman. More than that, she proves that vN's are more than machines, not only through her emotional attachment to her parents, but also through her effect on other vN and her interactions with Javier. Javier is the other main character in vN, one we'd previously encountered in The Education of Junior Number 12, a short story published on the Angry Robot site. I literally squeed when I recognised him, as I'd read the story when it was first put up and really enjoyed it. He is the opposite from Amy, a young vN in terms of age, a little past his first year, but the son he bears is his thirteenth iteration and he's been on his own for most of his existence. I loved how the interactions with Amy change his rather harsh view of life and make him gentler and wiser. Through his relationship with Amy and her treatment of Junior, he realises that the way he's raised his sons isn't the way to go about it and his growth and reconciliation with some of his older sons were very touching. What I really loved about the vN characters is that Ashby often made them feel more human than the humans in the book, without ever letting the reader lose sight of the fact that they are not. I truly believed in them and felt the pain that some of them weren't able to feel, which I think shows Ashby's strong skill at characterisation.

The story found in vN isn't just character-driven, however, it is also a very exciting road trip adventure. Amy and Javier go on the run together, both attempting to escape those trying to catch them and to solve the mysteries of Amy's failsafe failure and her family history. During this journey Ashby showcases her world, which is a future version of our own, and the depth to which she's developed the history of her world and the details of the vN machines. I was really impressed by how well-developed it was and how believable. The original motivation for the development is both original and rather creepy; they were meant to be helpmates for the people who aren't Raptured in the prophesied Apocalypse of a Christian splinter sect. I thought this was rather cool and also a bit ironic, because the vN were created in our own image, I'd think a Christian splinter sect would find doing this rather blasphemous. But the creation of the vN is only the biggest example of the depth of Ashby's world, but definitely not the only one. Coupled with a writing style that reads super smoothly, the quality of the world building and characterisation create a powerful narrative that's immersive and compelling.

The acquisition of vN must have pleased Angstrom A. Robot, as this book is all about his kind, even if, in the main, they aren't as angry. Madeline Ashby's debut novel blew my mind and I can't imagine where she'll go next. I seem to be on a good streak, because this is another book that is very likely to show up on my end of year lists. vN will be available everywhere from August 2nd. If you get a chance, this one is a must-read.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
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on 2 September 2012
Reasons you should buy this book:
You love complex, extremely creative and inspiring novels.
You like robots and action packed sci-fis.
You like a good female perspective that's unique and not whiny! Meaning, a well rounded compassionate main character that you really root for!

Plus other aspects which I found great. Most books I read lack the uniqueness that Madeline Ashby has. She certainly sounds well read and educated! She has many ideas which are explored throughout and if you love a plot that really drives forward, this could be for you! I found I never got bored. Normally, I get bored halfway through a book where writers get stuck but this author held my interest and came across as an intelligent person just brimming with ideas.

A few little things though. I didn't give this 5 stars because one second a nice scene is being built up and then we're suddenly elsewhere and thrown into a new place with little room for explanation. This happens a lot. If you dislike stories that jump from point to point lacking a smooth transition, this isn't for you. If you dislike endings that are bland, this one's not for you either.

Overall, better than most stuff I read. I'd still look out for another book from this writer, so I'd call it a success.
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Amy Peterson is a von Neumann machine, a self-replicating humanoid robot.

For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother's past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, little Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.

Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she's learning impossible things about her clade's history - like the fact that the failsafe that stops all robots from harming humans has failed... Which means that everyone wants a piece of her, some to use her as a weapon, others to destroy her.

When we first meet Amy she is a five-year old child living with her human father and android mother. Her accelerated growth has been stunted to mimic that of a human child using a special diet that keeps her in a state of almost constant hunger. Everything seems idyllic in this perfect little family unit, but within a few short chapters it becomes evident that all is not as rosy as it appears from the outside. The unexpected appearance of Amy's grandmother acts as a catalyst to events and things quickly start to spiral out of control. In one of the novel's standout moments, Amy is transformed from a child into a young woman. This is what happens when you're a starving self-replicating android and you eat a relative. Forced to go on the run, Amy's world is turned upside down as she suddenly finds herself an unprepared child trapped in a grown up shell. Somehow she manages to retain an air of innocence, but this sets her at odds with the world around her.

On her travels Amy's constant companion is the electronic spirit/shadow of her grandmother, Portia. Concerned only with being in charge and spending all her time trying to usurp Amy's control of her own body, Portia is literally the ghost in the machine. There are a few spectacular moments where Portia temporarily manages to wrestle ownership from Amy and these all tend to end in an explosively violent manner.

Another of my favourite moments occurs when the authorities finally capture Amy. She is forced to play a series of games in order that her captors can better understand her and the choices that she makes. This section reads almost like a physical interpretation of the Voight-Kampff test from Blade Runner, there are a number of other reverential nods dotted throughout if you look for them, these were a nice, unexpected touch.

This novel also touches upon some interesting ideas when it comes to religion. In the near future world that Ashby's created rather than shy away from it religious groups have embraced technology. So much so that they are the ones responsible for the advancement of androids in the first instance. It's their reasoning behind that choice that not only offers insight but also raises some difficult questions. I have to admit, when I first picked up vN I didn't expect to end up reading something that not only taps into the technological zeitgeist but also dissects many of the taboos that surround organized religion.

vN is a striking debut, one part tech thriller and one part adult fairy story. Amy could easily be viewed as Pinocchio's elder sibling or perhaps the Ugly Duckling? Amy struggles to understand her place in the universe as she tries to discover what it means to be a `real' girl. It's ironic that though many view her as just a machine, Amy's actions make her appear the most human out of all the characters in the novel. Amy genuinely cares what happens to others. In direct contrast to this, the majority of humans and other vNs that she encounters all seem to be quite self-absorbed.

Science fiction has always played around with the idea of machines that look and act like humans. Theses stories have a habit of promoting introspection on my part. What exactly does it mean to be human? What indistinguishable quality sets you aside from your fellow man? Will technology ever super-cede the human race? vN continues to explore this debate in a thoughtful and engrossing fashion. The best sci-fi not only entertains but also educates and informs, and vN manages all three effortlessly. Well worth checking out if you get the chance.
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on 8 August 2014
I can suspend belief pretty easy from most scifi but Ashby was asking for too much. Her basic story idea is okay and the big details are fine but it is in the little things that she lets the reader down. Amy Peterson is a Von Nuemann machine, a self-replicating humanoid robot that looks, sounds, feels like, talks, and in just all and every action, duplicates that of a human - except when it comes to eating. While she normally eats vN chow which resembles to some degree human food, it's really metal that she eats. Give her a metal recycling bin and it's Christmas dinner. So how does she digest metal? How does her body turn inorganic metal into organic cells? How does she devour her grandmother android in one go? Where and how does it all fit inside her? Don't ask me, I've only read the book.
And then through interaction with another vN, she can start photosynthesizing,which is how plants turn sunlight into simple sugars. Great, so why does android girl need simple organic sugars when she's living off inorganic metals.
You start pulling on that one loose thread and it all falls apart and that's the problem with this book. With 20 pages to go, I put the book down a month ago and have zero desire to pick it up and finish it.
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VINE VOICEon 1 August 2012
When you write a book with Robots as a central character you have to be very careful as they can come across as cold as well as impersonal which then makes them nigh impossible for the reader to associate with. What Madeline does with this book is bring out the human side as the principle character, Amy who is in Kindergarten when we meet her for the first time, brings this future world to the reader in not only an emotional way but on a journey of self-discovery that will have profound effects upon all involved.

Its wonderfully written, there's just the right amount of action to increase pace but the real discovery within is the changes that she makes as she gains experience of life on the run. Add to this solid prose, a great concept within and an overall arc that allows the reader to see the world though her eyes and all in this is a great release for a first time author. I'll definitely be reading more by Madeline in the future.
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