iD is the sequel to vN by Madeline Ashby. I broke one of my basic reading rules to read this: always start with the first book in a series. iD is seriously good and can stand on its own, but I mostly wish I kept my rule. I guess this just means I’ll have to reread this sooner rather than later. On the plus side, I’ll provide a perspective for the .04% who tread where angels dare not and start the second book. By the way, got to say I love the cover (and the cover of vN).
There are so many good things to say about iD. Ms. Ashby takes known ingredients: androids, an Asmovian rule for human safety and the depravity of man to cook up incredibly rich relationships, drama and landscapes. iD is part SciFi, part mystery thriller and part love story all the while examining issues of race and oppression, relative weakness and perversion, AI and psychology, confused relationships and mixed up people (vN and otherwise) across a vast and varied world. Primarily, however, it simply great storytelling.
The world of Javier, the protagonist of iD, is one in which humans and vN (bio-synthetic androids) live together. vN are the new servants built for different and every type of service imaginable. It is a deeply varied world going from an artificial semi-intelligent island to jungle to a Disney-like country that is vN friendly. vN do have their own identity but subservient one to humans. There’s an overall Hispanic lean to the world that Javier inhabits; it’s kind of like a Firefly blending of cultures but this time Hispanic and North American as opposed to American/Chinese. vN cannot harm humans which leads, for some humans, to incredible abuse. vN present the best victim because, ultimately, they must obey and can never retaliate. Ms. Ashby displays the full depravity of man, and it is mostly men, on vN. I’m sure it started with the notion of a safety-valve; better perpetrate your sick desires on vN than on people. Of course, what occurred was a full release and encouragement for all the inner sick desires men have to the point of designing vN to accommodate pedophiles. Javier is more self-aware than most and can stand at some distance to humans, but still within the confines of the rules. He can desire to break the rules while he is still bound by them. All vN, male and female, can iterate – i.e., have progeny.
So we start in the world left off by vN, Portia is contained and Amy is, at least temporarily left on her own. Javier joins her on the island where their complex relationship takes shape. His love for Amy is unabashed and unreserved; hers, not so much. She’s a bit like Spinoza’s Monad – separate but completely connected to all things. She is always aware of the island and beyond. She is unable to fully give herself over to Javier. Javier’s relationships with his iterations are interesting; not quite parent-child, not quite friend. This stasis between Amy & the New Eden and, hence, vN and the world, cannot last long. The big, bad corporation/”church” New Eden intervenes and all hell breaks loose.
Ms. Ashby’s storytelling is terrific. Overall, I love her pacing. All of this analysis of social ills and relationship examination is a hard-driving drama – it’s a page turner. The one somewhat jarring note was Javier’s flashbacks and change of scenes. I believe that these wouldn’t be so jarring to someone who read vN and could quickly orient themselves in the vN world; I took a paragraph or so to figure out if Javier was in a dream, remembering or in a new scene. Ms. Ashby deftly sprinkles her story some references to Isaac Asimov and Philip K Dick. She doesn’t overdo the references (although I’m sure I’ve missed many). Ultimately, what makes this great narrative so powerful is that it weaves into the narrative the abuse of power and failed relationship and how interconnected those are. The bad guys can’t sustain a genuine relationship, but impose broken one-way “transactions” with others. The protagonist is all about relationship and at times sustaining, healing, grieving and initiating relationships with those around him. He also has an intimate connectedness to the world around him. It forces us to reflect on how we relate to those around us as well as the world around us. Don’t get me wrong; It is not a thinly veiled morality play but a true store that exposes the raw turmoil of our connections. All of this mentioning of relationship may make one think this is chick-lit SciFi; most definitely not. It’s wonderfully rich hard SciFi story that continues that long and illustrious tradition of examining social issues from the relatively safe confines of another world.
A couple of cautionary notes: This does fairly starkly, if not graphically, portray human oppression and perversion – this is not for children. The other is simply personal preference; I could have lived without the whole gay focus and didn’t think it integral to the story.
All of that being said, I heartily recommend iD and have already lock and loaded vN on my Kindle to catch-up. I look forward to future work by Ms. Ashby who combines a keen mind with great storytelling skills.
Full disclosure: I received ARC from NetGalley