Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Book Review: Machinehood by S. B. Divya

Pros: brilliant worldbuilding, interesting characters, thought-provoking, international setting


Olga (Welga) Ramirez only has a few months of shield work left before she ages out of it, which is why she’s ready to ignore the tremors her zips (enhancement drugs) seem to be causing. To placate her boyfriend, she asks her sister-in-law, Nithya, a biogeneticist, to look into it.

Protecting drug manufacturing funders from protesters as a shield is a semi-dangerous but rewarding and steady job in a world where most people can only find gig work. When a new protest group, the Machinehood, ignores the established ‘rules’ and kills the funder, leaving a manifesto behind, Ramirez realizes the world is about to change.

I really liked the two main point of view characters. Welga’s a bad ass former soldier who loves to cook. Her side of the story deals with the physical aspects of modifications. Nithya is the primary wage earner in her family which makes things a challenge when she discovers she’s pregnant and has to stop using the drugs that allow her to work. Her story is about juggling family and work. Her story also deals more with ethical problems. The book also has a minor non-binary character which was cool to see. And while the story shows that racism isn’t dead, this character faces no in text negativity, so maybe humanity in this future has progressed in that respect.

The worldbuilding was incredible. The amount of history the author created is mind boggling, especially given its detail with regards to politics, conflict, ethics, and most importantly science (with the development of mech technology, then bots, then zips and veemods). I also appreciated the differences in attitude shown by people of various ages with regards to the technology (as it changed) and privacy issues. Also the mixing of technologies - static and moldable items - was really cool, and showed that people adapt new technologies at different speeds depending on their wealth and rural vs urban positioning.

There’s a large emphasis on the gig economy and how having machines take over most physical work makes employment difficult for humans. Global warming also shows up in the form of climactic shifts in regions of the world (like Arizona being subject to repeated dust storms).

I loved that the book had an international setting with one major point of view character in India, major mentions of North Africa and Singapore, nods to China and Europe in addition to a fair amount of action taking place in the United States.

This book would be fantastic for book club meetings as there are a lot of interesting discussion possibilities, specifically around ethics, but also with regards to technological advancements and how things like privacy and the gig economy will change in the future.

I noticed in a few places the author gave the same information twice, in one case using almost the same language both times. This isn’t really a problem beyond the fact that the repetition was unnecessary and therefore a little distracting.

The ending felt a little simplistic given the complexity of the problems the characters are dealing with, but it did wrap things up well.

This is a fantastic book, alternating fast paced action scenes with slower paced visions of life. There’s a lot to think about in this complex possible future.

Out March 2nd.

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