Novel: Machinehood by S.B. Divya

After the promising debut novella Runtime, S.B. Divya returns with her first full-length novel, Machinehood (2021). It’s even more impressive, a thought-provoking, futuristic thriller that imagines the long-term ramifications of robotics and artificial intelligence on late twentieth-century life.

Welga Ramirez is a “shield,” a high-profile bodyguard for a powerful pharmaceutical developer. Welga is thrust onto the front lines of a world-shaping conflict when her client is assassinated before her very eyes. The culprits of the terrorist strike are the Machinehood, a radical organization seeking equality for the ubiquitous, semi-intelligent technologies now overwhelmingly relied upon to do humanity’s labor—while also, ironically, leading to further exploitation of humanity, by forcing them into drug-enhanced, gig-economy hustling to remain competitive. The Machinehood has an ambitious agenda, and their attacks soon intensify, causing widespread panic, a backlash against AIs, and untold death and destruction. Welga’s first-hand experience with Machinehood operatives uniquely situates her to track down and put a stop to them, impelling her to enlist with a government special forces group dedicated to the task. But her investigation takes her to an unexpected, paradigm-shifting destination.

Machinehood is a bracing, idea-packed read that inventively imagines the latter half of this century with a deft mix of cautionary critique and hopeful speculation. The protagonists—driven, physical Welga and pragmatic, cerebral Nithya—are well drawn and likable, and between them serve well as complementary viewpoints on Divya’s richly envisioned future. As in Runtime, the futuristic furniture is interesting in and of itself, but also speaks to the author’s recurring theme: the fraught intersection of wealth, privilege, technology, and labor in the future. Lately, we’ve seen a welcome surge of colorful, detailed, “futurismic” science fiction in the field, exemplified by the work of authors like Madeleine Ashby, L.X. Beckett, Tim Maughan, Ramez Naam, and Malka Older, among others. Divya definitely looks to be another voice to watch closely in this space.

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