Re-Read: vN (Madeline Ashby)

vN is the first novel in the Machine Dynasty series by Madeline Ashby.
Finished on: 6.3.2021
[Here’s my first review.]

Content Note: child abuse, pedophilia

Amy is a von Neumann machine who lives with her (human) father and her (vN) mother. She’s growing up slowly – which is unusual for vNs – and very sheltered. That is until her (vN) grandmother Portia shows up for her kindergarden graduation and attacks not only a kindergardener (which should be impossible due to the failsafe that immediately destroys vNs when they see a human hurt), but also Amy’s mother. In her desperation, Amy eats Portia and then she finds herself on the run, suddenly grown up and with Portia on a partition of her harddrive.

I read vN for the first time pretty soon after it came out and loved it. I read the second part iD not long after that, and then I had to wait for the third part to come out. And it finally did (7 years later), so I decided to revisit the first two books before completing the story. And I’m happy to report that the books still holds up.

The book cover showing a woman's worried face surrounded by machinery. A part of her skin is missing, beneath it we can see more metal.

vN has an absolutely intriguing worldbuilding that gives us so many aspects and facets of how things work, it is really impressive. Ashby really shows us how its done regarding her concept – with all of its implications and complexities, and it feels like a very unique take on robots and artificial intelligence. I certainly have never encountered a world quite like hers.

What struck me more than when I read the novel the last time was the origin of the vNs who were actually a church project, meant to take care of the humans who remained on earth after the rapture. This is such an interesting choice because usually technology and spirituality are seen as polar opposites. I liked the subversion here.

And I loved Amy and Javier. They perfectly complement each other in their personalities, but also in their storylines and upbringing. That Ashby manages to make them complete characters without ever letting us forget that they are robots. They are persons, yes, but they are not human.

I was a little worried that I had made the novel better in my memory than it actually is, but there is no question for me that vN is still a great read, despite a couple of rougher patches here and there (and a slightly out of control ending). Looking forward to reading iD, and then, finally, reV.

Summarizing: a favorite.

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