This futuristic story takes place in 2144. A lot has changed on Earth. Bots made for all imaginable purposes are now part of the society. Tech is booming. The indenture system that in practice means slavery is in place for bots as well as people. Pharmaceuticals are patented, which makes them unavailable to the poor, but Jack is not going to accept it. She's an anti-patent pirate who reverse engineers drugs, shipping them all over the world in her submarine. One day, a drug she's made turns out to be highly addictive and deadly. An agent and a bot are sent on a hunt for her, while Jack is trying to make it right.
Jack the pirate, Paladin the bot and Eliasz the agent are the main characters whose points of view we get to explore, but there are many more. They were all well fleshed out and felt like real people to me. Jack is a badass and a rebel willing to risk her life and freedom for her values (imperfect and human though). There are a lot of other interesting characters among the pirates, free culture folks and the bots.
Bots are very similar to people, even though there are certain interesting differences in how they think, feel and communicate. There are also some LGBTQ+ characters and sex scenes.
This book is so detailed! Everything is thought through and explained: every tech we encounter (and there are so many concepts!), the social, political and economic relationship, the culture, the science, just everything. Autonomous is really full of ideas, some of which I couldn't wrap my head around, and the book definitely belongs to hard sci-fi. Sometimes it was a bit too much for me just because I don't have any knowledge on many of those subjects, but it was also fascinating. Add to that the fact that the events take place in different parts of the world, and you'll be able to get a taste of how elaborate the world-building is.
The plot is pretty straightforward. Jack wants to save the people she inadvertently put in danger with her drug, Eliasz and Paladin want to stop her from pirating and getting certain damaging information about a powerful pharma corp into the world. It's not easy for either of them, there are a lot of obstacles getting in the way, as well as some personal relationships and dilemmas. There is also some violence and torture involved.
The pacing is steady, though the story started wrapping up and ended somewhat unexpectedly to me.
I loved Autonomous! The cyberpunk setting, the tension of not knowing who was going to get their way, the fact that a lot of characters were activists and belonged to the counterculture, the futuristic technology, the complexity of the protagonists - all of it made for a very engrossing read. I also loved how even though Eliasz and Paladin represented the side my values go against, and they did some extremely cruel things that made me angry, I couldn't perceive them as villains. I've experienced such intimate and vulnerable moments with them that I couldn't but accept them for who they were.
The book explores the issues of freedom and slavery, human relationships as well as the relationship between humans and bots, the dangers of patented science in the hands of powerful corporations, gender, love and many more. It was a very intense book for me, filled to the brim with ideas, feelings, technology, science and action.
You might enjoy this book if you are into cyberpunk, hard sci-fi, interested in the future of technology, society and culture and don't mind receiving lots of information some of which might be beyond your grasp (also, some weird human-robot stuff).
Annalee Newitz writes fiction and nonfiction about the intersection of science, technology and culture.
They are the author of the book Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age, and the novels The Future of Another Timeline, and Autonomous, which won the Lambda Literary Award. As a science journalist, they are a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, and have a monthly column in New Scientist. They have published in The Washington Post, Slate, Popular Science, Ars Technica, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic, among others. They are also the co-host of the Hugo Award-winning podcast Our Opinions Are Correct. Previously, they were the founder of io9, and served as the editor-in-chief of Gizmodo.