Reading: Madeline Ashby — Vn

Well, read actually. Finished and shelved. Pity China Miéville had to come along with Railsea this year, or my internal discussion over what’s the most memorable fiction work — ok, science-fiction, not like I read anything else — of the past twelve months would be a lot more interesting. Not helped either by the current non-arrival of Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Fractal Prince, now delayed until December.

I’m not sure where I heard of Madeline Ashby’s  vN: The First Machine Dynasty, though I did have a link to it in my unsorted folder of links for some time, and ordered it a couple of weeks ago when in need of something new. She has commented on Charlie’s blog in the past, but I don’t think it was from there. Anyway, I have a memory of someone saying it was really very good, actually, and being in the midst of very specifically reading women sci-fi authors …

I’m still reading The Water Margin, which I’ll probably return to shortly, and so waited a couple of days before starting this — also I wasn’t quite convinced by either the first pages (or the paper stock). A little like reading Accelerando, which felt heavily like an old William Gibson of the Neuromancer era (and then became something quite gloriously other), Vn read a bit like someone writing another’s style. And then of course Amy ate her grandmother and it was all on.

Curiously, it also often felt like something Charles Stross would write, or the world of Saturn’s Children, with something of Joan Slonczewski as well. Not to say it was a pastiche, rather that I enjoyed it very much, and it reminded me of some of my favourite works of the last couple of years. Indeed, looking back over the fiction I’ve read this year, if it weren’t for Railsea, there would be several novels I’d mention that might be my book of the year, and Vn would be included.

Turning into a review here, yes the paper stock was very newspapery, & I imagine it’ll be yellow-ish in a year or so. The cover was not embarrassing though. Much relief there. As for the writing, there did seem to be some slips of continuity (e.g. early on Amy is told she’s been asleep for a couple of days, but I couldn’t find the connection in the pages previous where she’d gone to sleep, not really a feeling for the distance they were supposed to have travelled in that scene), and a slight unclarity between the admittedly convoluted roles of mother, daughter, grandmother.

The ending arriving as happy families (naturally) I found mmm… I didn’t really care either way. As if having a child (even if it is by some kind of biorobotic parthenogenesis) is the greatest political act of freedom one can make; a weird urge to reify the characters through anthropomorphism. And there was an implication in the progeny founding story of what seemed to be BDSM as a performance of a narrative thread of personal damage, I found unconvincing and naïve.

Anyway, enjoyed very much, was distracted for some hours. Off to the bookshop for replacements.

Madeline Ashby — Vn
Madeline Ashby — Vn

freaked out light hating slime mould robot

I just thought, “wouldn’t it be cool to get a bunch of these slime mould robots that can’t handle the light, and pump them full of crystal meth and play Slayer at them really loud, blast them with a stadium full of par cans, and watch them dance… my friends were just horrified. Dancing robots, it’s all over except for the grave-digging for contemporary dance.

They grew slime in a six-pointed star shape on top of a circuit and connected it remotely, via a computer, to the hexapod bot. Any light shone on sensors mounted on top of the robot were used to control light shone onto one of the six points of the circuit-mounted mould – each corresponding to a leg of the bot.

As the slime tried to get away from the light its movement was sensed by the circuit and used to control one of the robot’s six legs. The robot then scrabbled away from bright lights as a mechanical embodiment of the mould. Eventually, this type of control could be incorporated into the bot itself rather than used remotely.

— New Scientist

slime mould and robot
slime mould and robot

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