Novel: iD by Madeline Ashby

Madeline Ashby’s iD (2013) is the idea-filled sequel to her first Machine Dynasty novel, vN, and it’s another kinetic, transgressive, and mind-expanding read. As it begins, rogue Von Neumann machines Amy and Javier have taken refuge on their own private island, where they’ve created a sanctuary for human-like machines from a world increasingly hostile to them. Unfortunately, there are malicious forces at work. When the island comes under attack, Javier must go on the run, both to save Amy and to save all vN from the cold-hearted plans of their human adversaries.

Ashby writes vivid, fast-paced prose that’s also fearless and edgy, and those qualities speed iD along its way. Underlying the inventive action is thoughtful speculation on the possible consequences of cavalierly integrating lifelike robots into society, asking penetrating questions the way the show Humans, for example, didn’t do often enough. Javier’s programming and lack of free will lead him down dark, exploited paths, making him a particularly sympathetic protagonist, and Ashby isn’t afraid to shine bright lights on the more disgusting proclivities of her human villains. Alas, the plot occasionally lacks smooth cause and effect, leading to confusing transitions, but ultimately the vigorous narrative energy, skiffy invention, and deft handling of big ideas carried this one home for me, leaving me hungry for more of the author’s work.

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