Autonomous by Annalee Newitz is SF punk for a new generation


Ever since the publication of William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer, which helped jumpstart the cyberpunk subgenre, there's been a tendency to "punk" each new exciting science fiction trend or book. Biopunk, steampunk, nanopunk, bugpunk — the punk designation is as much tied in with the attitudes represented by these subgenres as it does with the stories' subject matter and new takes on traditional SF themes.

One of the best debut novels I've read this year is Autonomous by Annalee Newitz. The story, which focuses on a future in which biotech and artificial intelligence and corporate control of patents rule all our lives, is begging for a SF punk label. There are more exciting ideas and possibilities in Newitz's novel than in an entire year's worth of works released by more traditional SF publishers. The story is also fast paced with interesting characters ranging from the traditionally human to AIs enslaved in war-fighting bodies.

William Gibson called the novel "genuinely and thrillingly new," which is extremely accurate. The world created in Autonomous is so interesting and unique that I could see this novel inspiring a new subgenre. Maybe AI-punk, or a reworking of what biopunk is currently about. Either way, Autonomous is an excellent new science fiction novel which fans of the genre's "literature of ideas" will love and will be on my short lists for next year's award nominations. Check it out.