Madeline Ashby‘s iD, the 2nd novel in her Machine Dynasty series, follows a self-replicating robot named Javier on his quest to right a horrible wrong against the woman he loves. During his bizarre journey of discovery and danger, he reflects on the nature of sexuality, free will, and his own culpability for the harm visited to the people he cares about.
The vN, or self-replicating robots, of this world all have a built in failsafe to protect humans from a mechanical revolution. If a vN sees a human come to harm, their programming begins to glitch. The greater the harm, the worse the robot becomes; eventually this can lead to a complete shutdown, tying robot survival and obedience to their own self-preservation. However, in certain rare instances, robots have been iterated without the failsafe and harmed humans.
The novel begins with Javier living with the love of his life, a failsafe-free vN woman named Amy, on an idyllic mechanoid island where they feel safe from humans who wish to eliminate them. However, not far into the novel, disaster occurs and Javier begins his painful and dangerous journey.
The characters in this story gripped me right away. I cared about what happened to each of them, loving the heroes and despising the villains. The nature of Javier’s journey is one of self-discovery as well as a look at human society through synthetic eyes.
The Uncanny Valley, the range of familiarity with almost-human imitations that causes revulsion in humans themselves, is a constant theme throughout the book. The author frequently juxtaposes the real with imitation or synthetic versions of things, not only contrasting humans with vN, but even cars, furniture, and entire neighborhoods are compared to their original models. Javier, the vN protagonist, functions as a walking and talking Turing test, constantly evaluating the believability of the other vN characters throughout the book. His vision bridges both human and vN society, and questions the validity of both.
The battle scenes are incredible. New machines of destruction fight against super-strong, high-jumping robots, and the results are anything but boring. The clear villain of the previous novel, vN, is replaced with villainous characters sprinkled liberally throughout the narrative. Abusive humans, as well as their vN servants, seek to keep Javier from his objective, but the majority of humanity is cast in an unfavorable light. Since the story is mostly told from the point of view of a vN at the mercy of the failsafe, this shouldn’t be surprising.
However, in my opinion, the novel contains way too much graphic language and sex, especially perversion involving pedophilia. Parts of the plot depend on sexual attitudes and situations, but I didn’t feel that the abundance of crude and graphic language and scenes contributed significantly to plot. In fact, I began to question its plausibility, since almost every sexual situation between humans involved participants who were incapable of procreating. How could humanity sustain its population in this type of society?
Though the author is adept at dropping information throughout the narrative without slowing down the action, readers unfamiliar with the previous novel, vN, might find this plot initially difficult to follow. Javier, though somewhat less endearing than the previous novel’s heroine, struggles to find himself and his redemption, and despite a few loose ends left for the continuation of the series, the novel concludes with a satisfying ending. Fans of Ashby’s Machine Dynasty series should enjoy her bizarre world and its creations for years to come.