Book Review: Autonomous

Book Review: Autonomous

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a crush on the author of Autonomous, Annalee Newitz.  It’s a nerdy crush full of admiration for Newitz’s humor, intelligence and artistic talent. And if that isn’t enough, she’s queer, which is a total bonus on my score sheet.

My crush began when I became a devoted fan of the podcast, Our Opinions are Correct, hosted by Newitz and her partner, Charly Jane Anders.  On their podcast, they address topics like capitalism, democracy, transgender and queer issues through the lens of scifi books, movies and series.  The podcast is engaging and intelligent and I highly recommend it.  OOAC has become a staple of my twice-weekly walks to work.

As a result of the podcast, I looked into their work as writers and added titles to my Goodreads list.  In particular, Autonomous looked promising – I’m attracted to dystopian scifi, and was especially thrilled at the prospect of reading what a queer woman would contribute to the genre.  I figured I’d buy a copy within the next few months.  The universe had other plans.  While browsing the scifi shelves at my local library (shout out to Timberland Regional), there it was, standing out as a recommended title. I might have broken the sound barrier scooping it off the shelf.

Autonomous is a novel set in the not-too-distant future in a world where corporate power has more impact on the lives of the world’s inhabitants than civil governments. The world building is excellent, delivered in highly readable chunks while we follow the protagonist through a society where the divide between the haves and have-nots is nearly impossible to cross. This story has it all – robots, indentured slavery, class divisions, hyper-violent patent enforcement, queers, transgender entities, super awesome technology and sex.  And this won’t give too much away: if you’re like me, Newitz will have you rooting for characters when you know eventually they are going to square up and not everyone will come out a winner.

Though I finished the book quickly, it stayed with me for days after.  The world of the novel, so richly described, was like a translucent overlay on my day-to-day life.  Newitz also does an excellent job of creating characters with complex contradictions of motivations, dreams, weaknesses, lusts and fears. Those characters also stayed present with me for several days after I finished the book, as I wondered about what the future held for them.

Autonomous is a must read for anyone looking for richly developed queer, trans and other non-conforming characters who struggle against an unjust, dystopian system to find love, sex and happiness. It’s entertaining; it’s smart and thinky; it’s sexy and fun. Find it at your local library, or at your favorite book seller.

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