Annalee Newitz, cofounder and editor-in-chief of io9, has written a novel that has all the signs of being a major touchpoint in science fiction. Autonomous bases its meditations on questions of ownership and resource allocation in a future where both are matters of patent law. If this seems like improbable grounds in which to grow a gripping, nail-biting action plot, reconsider. Captain Jack Chen is a pirate with a personal submarine and a working knowledge of pharmacology. She “liberates” drugs and see them distributed through networks that get them to people who ordinarily can’t afford them. Autonomous is the kind of novel science fiction is most adept at producing—the thoughtful, philosophically-attuned thriller that leaves you with plenty to mull over once your adrenalin stops pumping.— From Mark
April 2018 Great Novels of the 22nd Century book club selection— From Great Novels of the 22nd Century
“The best science fiction stretches our ingrained concepts of humanity and civilization into a series of questions that entrance and electrify, both by the nature of the questions and by the contextual reality the author has created. Annalee Newitz shows her mastery of the genre with Autonomous, which poses questions relating to artificial intelligence, consciousness, and ownership against the backdrop of Earth in 2144, where patent property law rules social order and indentured people and bots are the new lower class. Autonomous follows Jack, a drug pirate desperately trying to fix a deadly mistake she made while racing against Eliasz, a temperamental military agent, and Paladin, a newly conscious indentured military bot. Newitz forces you to empathize with every character. A true masterpiece.”
— Charlotte Bruell, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI
When anything can be owned, how can we be free
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?