Madeline Ashby’s vN (2012) is a creative and engaging SF romp about a sentient humanoid robot (or “vN”) named Amy. Amy’s unusual but loving childhood, under the care of her kind human father and vN mother, is catastrophically disrupted by her deranged grandmother Portia, who shows up to shockingly assault Amy’s mother. The resulting violent incident serves as highly public evidence of a glitch in the vN’s failsafe programming, and turns Amy into a reluctant fugitive. Luckily she finds an ally in Javier, another vN who’s roaming the world serially reiterating himself. Their frantic journey begins as simple survival behavior, but soon becomes a quest: to solve the mystery of the faulty vN programming and find a place in the world.
After a somewhat slow prologue, vN quickly picks up steam, and it’s an amusing and entertaining read — kind of a riff on Asimov’s robot novels, by way of the cyberpunks. The vNs are reminiscent of Blade Runner replicants, and the book interestingly gets into the heads of these artificial intelligences. Sheer invention, eyeball kicks, and wild action seems to trump the smooth unfolding of plot in this one — I have to say that at times I lost sight of the big picture for the episodic detail. But ultimately I found it a worthy, energetic, and thought-provoking SF novel, and a promising debut.