I liked the look of the cover and the premise intrigued me, so I was delighted to read and review this one…
BLURB: A notorious anti-patent scientist who has styled herself as a Robin Hood heroine fighting to bring cheap drugs to the poor, Jack’s latest drug is leaving a trail of lethal overdoses across what used to be North America—a drug that compels people to become addicted to their work. On Jack’s trail are an unlikely pair: an emotionally shut-down military agent and his partner, Paladin, a young military robot, who fall in love against all expectations. Autonomous alternates between the activities of Jack and her co-conspirators, and Elias and Paladin, as they all race to stop a bizarre drug epidemic that is tearing apart lives, causing trains to crash, and flooding New York City.
This was an interesting read. There was a lot about this book that was very familiar – the dystopian neo-future world, where large corporate firms, in this case, drug companies, were producing all sorts of drugs which were less about healing and more about extracting the maximum amount of efficiency from workers. Capitalism is red in tooth and claw, throwing away people when they no longer serve the bottom line, as in the profit margin. Slavery has become acceptable, both of cyborgs and by extension, humans, although they are known as indentured.
Jack, a former research scientist, who has crossed to many lines to be regarded as a legal citizen, now produces bootleg drugs for those who cannot afford the real thing. But when one of those drugs proves to be lethal, she finds that she has drawn down unwelcome attention. The team sent out to reel her in and put a stop to her activities is a partnership between experienced Elias and Paladin, a newly built military-grade cyborg which contains a human brain. However, his memory has been compromised and he is having to learn the craft of interacting with humans and putting the skills he’s learnt in a training programme to use in the field.
It took me a while to warm to this one. The characters are not innately likeable or easy to get to know. However, as we gradually learn more about Jack and her past, I became far more sympathetic to her stance. The interesting aspect of this book is the attitude to sex. It isn’t unusual for there to be a protagonist with a casual attitude towards sex, which Jack certainly demonstrates in her relationship with Threezed. However, it isn’t an equal relationship and although it is the young runaway who instigates sex, Newitz makes it clear that because the power relationship between the two characters is so unequal, the sexual relationship is almost inevitably abusive – something Jack would not perceive to be the case. The relationship between the experienced, not-quite-burnt-out human field agent and the raw, newbie cyborg is also an uncomfortable one. Paladin picks up the fact that Elias finds him physically attractive, despite struggling with the fact that he is defined as male. So Paladin decides to reinvent herself as female, in order to please him. It’s taken me a while to work out my thoughts on this interesting book.
Overall, it is an examination of power relationships. Not just those that go to make a dystopian society where selling children for sex and working people to death is the ultimate consequence of using profit margins and market forces to run society – but how such inequalities play out on a personal level. I enjoyed the world building and tech in this near-future world which I thought worked well. However, the pacing was a bit lumpy in places, particularly at the beginning. Overall, though, I enjoyed this one and recommend it to fans of dystopian near-future adventures.