Madeline Ashby is joining us today to talk about The Machine Dynasty Omnibus. Here’s the publisher’s description:
An omnibus edition consisting of all three volumes of Madeline Ashby’s epic sci-fi masterwork, The Machine Dynasty. Collects vN, iD and ReV.
Amy Peterson is a von Neumann machine, a self-replicating humanoid robot. For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother’s past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, little Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.
Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she’s learning impossible things about her clade’s history – like the fact that the failsafe that stops all robots from harming humans has failed… Which means that everyone wants a piece of her, some to use her as a weapon, others to destroy her.
Javier is a self-replicating humanoid on a journey of redemption. Javier’s quest takes him from Amy’s island, where his actions have devastating consequences for his friend, toward Mecha where he will find either salvation… or death.
The Rapture, which vN were engineered for, finally comes to pass. Now that the failsafe that once kept vN from harming humans has been hacked, all are discovering the promise – and the peril – of free will.
With her consciousness unleashed across computer systems all across the world, the vicious vN Portia stands poised to finally achieve her lifelong dream of bringing humanity to its knees. The old battle between her and her granddaughter Amy comes to an epic conclusion in the war for the very systems that keeps the planet running. Can Amy get her family to the stars before Portia destroys every opportunity for escape and freedom?
What’s Madeline’s favorite bit?
“Wait, she eats her grandmother?”
“And she’s a robot.”
“And her grandmother is…?”
“Also a robot. Yeah.”
“And the little girl eats her.”
“Alive. Yeah. The little robot girl eats her robot grandmother alive. Then her evil grandmother’s consciousness lives on in a partition of her own and tries to take over her body and make her kill humans. That’s the first book in the trilogy.”
The above is a rough approximation of every conversation I’ve ever had while explaining my Machine Dynasty series, from Angry Robot Books. The first novel in the series, vN, opens with this moment — Amy, a little self-replicating humanoid who is on a starvation diet so she grows at a “human pace,” confronts her grandmother Portia at kindergarten graduation and eats her alive. That’s it. That’s the prologue. Then they go on the run, and Amy meets another robot in jail, and she helps him have his lucky thirteenth baby, and they fall in love.
(That happens, too. She helps another robot give birth by holding his abdominal cavity open so he can lift his own self-replication out of his body, Russian doll-style. I think at one point there’s the consumption of a carbon aerogel placenta, but I may have cut that part out. So to speak.)
I’ve had variations on this conversation in all kinds of places: at conventions, at tech and design shows, during pre-interviews for radio and TV, when meeting future in-laws for the first time. My favourite iteration of this conversation is the one I have at customs kiosks. Customs agents mostly seem surprised or delighted when I tell them I’m a science fiction writer. There’s always a little stutter in their reaction, a brief pause wherein they have to actually think about what a science fiction writer must look like. I don’t know what they’re expecting, but somehow I never measure up. “They make us in girl shapes, too,” I said to one, in a moment of jetlagged recklessness. Sometimes they follow up with a question about my books. This is a standard interrogation technique: can the subject answer effortlessly, and stick to her story? This is when it’s helpful to have written a book about a little robot girl who eats her grandmother. It’s not the kind of cover story anyone would ever make up. It’s too weird, too gross, too much. Once when entering the US, the guard asked me bluntly “What do you write?” and seemed disappointed when I said, “I’m a science fiction writer. I write about robots who eat each other.” I think he wanted me to be a journalist. Telling him I was a science fiction writer was like handing over my lunch money without a slam against the lockers, first. Anticlimactic.
I mention this moment in the story not simply because it’s my favourite bit, but because it’s also a good barometer for whether someone will find the Machine Dynasty interesting. If reading about a little girl unhinging her jaw, vomiting peroxidase-infused digestive fluid on an elderly psychotic robot, and slurping up a pile of precious metals isn’t your thing, that’s okay! To each their own. No judgment here. I’m just trying to offer fair warning. This is how weird it gets. These novels are not dry, lifeless Asimovian logic problems. But they’re not pure robot sexploitation, either. They’re just robot novels that don’t centre humans. There are humans in the story, but they’re obstacles to be overcome and not ideals to be reached. None of these robots wants to become human — they already consider themselves to be complete people and have no desire to emulate animals. These are not novels about humans who have a hard time telling robots apart from their fellow humans, they’re novels about robots who have a hard time deciding whether humans are humane enough to live. And if you can roll with that, then these are your books.
MADELINE ASHBY is a science fiction writer and strategic foresight consultant living in Toronto. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her other essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity, and Tor.com.