Five year old Amy is a von Neumann machine, a self-replicating humanoid robot, living as the daughter of her human father and vN mother. When her grandmother turns up at her school, killing a child and attacking her mother, Amy’s instincts kick in and she…eats her granny. After a life of restrictive diet, the meal accelerates her growth and changes everything.

This book had been on my TBR for quite some years, but a group readathon challenge required one of us to read a book by a Madeleine, so I took one for the team… and ended up being super grateful that I was pushed to pick this book up.

Yes it starts off by her eating her granny, which sounds a bit ridiculous or that it might be gory but vN is rather a thought-provoking book on the nature of artificial intelligence. These sentient, lifelike beings are unable to disobey humans, even when it harms themselves. In addition they can’t bear to see violence inflicted on humans, when they witness it, the failsafe kicks in and shuts them down. 

Sentience is not freedom. Real freedom is the ability to say no.

The opening chapter shows us how Amy has been living as a child, with a restrictive diet designed to make her grow at the same rate as human children. Charlotte also restricts her food intake so as not to self-replicate. This part is told from Jack’s perspective, how he is judged sometimes for having a vN wife and child. He’s not very likeable, saying real women are too emotional and it does seem a bit creepy, but after Amy eats her granny, he’s not part of the story.

Javier literally can’t help loving humans. His failsafe goes so deep that he wants to be used. He has no bodily autonomy when he is around them. As Amy becomes more evolved, we see that Javier starts feeling towards her what he would for humans. As she becomes more human.

I can’t help it. I love humans. They’re adorable. Like those little dogs with the wrinkly faces.

Humans gave vNs the ability to procreate, what does that do to their psyche? They can starve themselves or they can birth replicas of themselves. Javier feels the pull to replicate but abandons his children. Amy, having been raised human, feels much more responsible for them, rescuing Junior when Javier would just leave him for dead.

Is the only way for vNs to truly live is to be separate from the human race?

This gave me plenty to think about and I would pick up the rest of the trilogy in the future. This might have been a review copy, I can’t remember. Better late than never, eh Angry Robot?

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