Books of 2013, #33: vN, by Madeline Ashby

This one is one of those “big idea” science fiction books. What if, Ashby wonders, we had self-aware synthetic humans in today’s world? Take it further; wonder about love and marriage and kids. Take it one more step, and build your story around the “child” of a mixed couple: human father, “vN” (for Von Neumann) mother. In the world of the book, the child is really only the offspring of the mother; the synthetics are technological, not biological, and so an actual hybrid is impossible. Toss in a sprinklings of Asimov and set the ball rolling, and you’ve got most of Ashby’s novel.

It’s mostly fun, but begins to collapse under the weight of its own ideas well before the end. I find this is an issue in lots of SF: the writer’s “what if” engine goes into overdrive, and more and more ideas get grafted on, and before long the narrative is stuck in a bog of individually interesting notions that, taken together, create a mess.

Still, vN is a debut. Flawed as it is, it still suggests more interesting work to come form her pen. I doubt I’ll bother with the sequel, but I really would like to read what she comes up with next, once she’s done with this world.

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