Book Review: vN by Madeline Ashby


vN
by Madeline Ashby

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

A more formal review will go up on SF Signal soon, but for now, here are my thoughts.

I’m very impressed with this debut novel from Madeline Ashby. She excels at making her A.I. robot perspective feel real, sometimes in humorous ways, sometimes in scary ways and most enjoyably through their struggle to experience love, freedom and responsibility over loved ones. The layout for how the robots iterate (make copies) appeals to the love of technology upgrades and creating superpowers, reminding me of an adventure through a video game and leveling up my characters, but in a story that also touches the heart.

Another way the author impressed me was in how she layers unexpecting conflict after unexpecting conflict, like getting beatup by the Terminator, then Bruce Lee shows up to snap a few roundhouses across your face, and then when you think you can’t take anymore, Chuck Norris walks in and says, “Madeline’s not even halfway done with you.” Sometimes, as a reader, you think an author is going to wait until later in the story to make survival impossible, but this author found new ways to surprise and doom her characters, seemingly, on a page by page basis.

My only complaint is that this conflict carpet bombing eased up in sections of the second half. Granted, she took advantage by showing character and world interaction, explaining a little about the clever system of robot iteration and the breaking of the main character’s failsafe, but this process was a little slower to read. The scope seemed to shrink in this section as well. I thought the secret army of robots and the global effort to get rid of her would expand instead of contract, but the surprising twist in the last fifteen percent wrapped this up under a solid plan and really redeemed any disinterest that had formed between 70 and 84 percent.

I thought this was getting a little too YA for me in terms of a theme about not letting our dreams be bogged down by our parents’ failures, but the author expands on this to include a more adult perspective on that problem, including being a good parent and what it takes to overcome self in order to fall in love.


I’m left very excited to start the second book, iD, which comes out later in June from Angry Robot Books (25 June for US/ebook and 4 July for UK). The fantastic ending to vN seems to promise that the scope will expand in book two. The last chapter went to places in the development of the robotic systems that I did not see coming, and really hits a sweetspot on the part of my brain that wants to see complex robots going head to head with their deficiencies and whether they will survive when the humans put up their best effort to stop them.

Related SF Titles I’ve reviewed:

Shift Omnibus by Hugh Howey (3.5/5)
Nexus by Ramez Naam (4/5)
Germline by T.C. McCarthy (4.8/5)
Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey (4.8/5)
Haywire by Justin Macumber (3.5/5)
Acts of the Apostles by John F.X. Sundman (3.5/5)

View all my reviews

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3 Responses to Book Review: vN by Madeline Ashby

  1. I’m excited for you and cursing you at the same time! You are managing to get to all the books I want to be getting to! :) I got a copy of this for Christmas and it sits on my to-read table by my recliner in the library. *sigh* Glad to see by your review that the anticipation I already have for this book, based on other reviews I’ve read, will be met with something special.

  2. It is a quasi-YA novel, if you squint at it right, you’re right. And its a very very good debut.

    • timothyc says:

      I don’t tend to read YA, but Madeline kept me interested in spite of that and rewarded me in the end with more adult struggles of love and parenthood. I can’t wait to see what she does in iD. Thanks for stopping by, Paul! I just listened to your Skiffy and Fanty interview with Lauren Beukes about The Shining Girls. That sounds like a very interesting book, and good job on you guys for interviewing on such a tough subject (i.e. how to not spoil anything).

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