By Annalee Newitz
A lot of the action in Autonomous takes place in Canada, which in the year 2144 has gone through some changes. Our home and native land is now part of a vast conglomerate known as the Free Trade Zone, and with the fallout from climate change and other factors the major tech hubs are now located in places like Iqaluit and Saskatoon.
Judith “Jack” Chen is an anti-corporate pharmaceutical pirate, cruising the world in a stealth submarine and creating black market drugs for people who can’t afford them. She gets into trouble though when she hacks a new workplace drug that turns out to be lethally addictive. Being a good social justice warrior she wants to put things right, but she’s already triggered a response from the International Property Coalition, which has put a couple of agents who share an odd post-human bond on her trail.
It’s a catchy plot, and Newitz puts it to good use in exploring the evolving meaning of freedom. In the future slavery has come back in a big way, as corporations have turned us into drugged-up zombies, there is a class system of indentured servitude, and biobot workers are programmed with only limited degrees of autonomy. This loss of freedom also means that the line between humanity and artificial intelligence is becoming blurred, leading to even more complications that will need sorting out.