Cover Image: Emergent Properties

Emergent Properties

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

2.5 ⭐

What I enjoyed most about this book was Scorn's POV and the glimpse of what it's like to be an AI.

The name Scorn 💚
AI pov
Human parents
Genderless pronouns
Furturistic Earth
Moon missions
AI's version of the dark web

An interesting sci-fi novella that was just missing a little something, but I still found it enjoyable

Was this review helpful?

I am always looking for a new voice in Sci-fi! Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an e-arc in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

Inventive and intricate world building, along with a unique voice. Though the read was not quite for me, I would highly recommend those who enjoy hard sci-fi and intriguing POVs.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for granting me free access to the advanced digital copy of this book.

Was this review helpful?

I saw this one pitched as perfect for fans of Murderbot ... and since sassy robots are taking over my reading I was happy to give it a go.

It took me a couple tries to get into, just because of the science-y world specific jargon. But once I got going, the momentum didn't let up.

A quick, fun read that probably isn't for Sci-fi newbies, but that established sci-fi fans might really enjoy!

Was this review helpful?

‘Emergent Properties’ by Aimee Ogden is a novella about a sentient AI with a knack for finding answers and trouble.

Scorn is an AI that is good at finding answers. When Scorn wakes with no memory of the past two days, there are new answers to be found. Of course, Scorn could be getting the wrong answers.

Scorn is an interesting enough character, but seems a bit too emotive. The use of genderless pronouns here felt like an unnecessary distraction to me.

Was this review helpful?

This is a moment when I really wish I could give half stars since 3 feels a little low.

At first I really didn't enjoy this novella. There is a lot of world jargon and I was mostly only enjoying it as an exercise in practicing the use of ze/zem/zir pronouns. However, over time I became accustomed to Scorn, the world around zem, and all of the jargon and really started enjoying it. I think comparing this book to Murderbot does it a real disservice because it sets the bar unreasonably high and sets the reader up for disappointment.

Recommend? Yes, for people who enjoy sci-fi and are okay with wading through a lot of world-specific language without a lot of roadmaps to understanding that language.

Was this review helpful?

This book wanted to be Murderbot so bad.

Unfortunately, for the author, Murderbot isn't a spoiled rich kid, rebelling during their parents divorce.

Unfortunately, for the reader, the book's protagonist (and possibly the author) is.

If you can't tell, I wasn't the biggest fan of this read. Not because I was expecting Murderbot 2.0, but because it's just boring. We spend the majority of the book travelling from one place to another, just to get info dumps as world building. The plot is pretty thin. and nobody's motivations feel compelling or genuine.

I just wish the author would have explored their ideas on robot romance and autonomy. There are some creative thoughts going on there, give me more of that.

Was this review helpful?

Ogden won me over with her (absolutely gorgeous) debut novella Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters – so even though Emergent Properties didn’t have a premise that interested me that much, well, I already knew I loved Ogden’s prose. And that’s often the dealbreaker for me; I can read (and enjoy) a story I don’t care about as long as the writing’s beautiful, but an incredible story is rendered unreadable for me if I and the writing don’t get on.

So when I find an author whose writing I like, I don’t give up on them easily, is what I’m saying here.

Pretty much as expected, I really did not care about the mystery that needed solving – I actually think it was a legitimate let-down, not because I didn’t care about it, but because it’s one of those where there’s no way for the reader to put the pieces together before the big reveal (or in hindsight, after it). At least this time, that didn’t have the effect of making the big reveal surprising; instead it was like a deflated souffle, something clearly MEANT to be big and grand and amazing, but which very much flopped instead.

That wasn’t really a problem, though, outside of reading the big reveal scene itself (which was a total fail). Emergent Properties is about Scorn, and Scorn more than justifies the pagecount just by sheer interesting-ness. Ogden’s take on what the inside of a (sentient) AI might look like was fascinating, but Scorn is also a legitimately engaging, funny character, and the combination of the two – Scorn’s personality and zir interactions with that personality in ways not possible for humans – was a lot of fun. I loved the way Scorn’s self-awareness had zir adjusting zir own personality – not in the ‘I will be polite when really I’m mad’ way, but literally adjusting the code of zir personality – in response to different situations; wow is that a useful feature. And I suspect I’m not the only one jealous of Scorn’s ability to turn zir emotions up, down, or entirely off!

The novella peripherally touches on topics like robot emancipation and AI citizenship, to which the best response is a question Scorn can’t help asking: why make your servants sentient in the first place? To which I’m just – yeah. That. Can we not do that? Let’s not do that. We’re far too casual, as a society, with creating new sentients (aka, having children) as-is: can we all agree we won’t make entirely new sentient lifeforms just so they can better serve us coffee, or whatever?

If we want servants, they don’t need to be sentient. If they’re sentient, they can’t be servants – or rather, they can’t be slaves. Let’s not do that again, either.

Basically, a quick, fun read with just enough meatiness to it to leave me with plenty to think about.

Was this review helpful?

*I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for the free book*

I can see why "Emergent Properties" begs comparisons with the Murderbot Series, but I really had trouble immersing myself in this one and getting a grasp on our protagonist, zir background, zir occupation. I feel like this was too medias res, too much happening all at once. I just finished this and I still am somewhat confused. It might be me but I feel like making this novella a tad bit longer would've been beneficial somehow.

3 stars because parts were amusing and I really liked the protagonist's brother and parts of the ending

Was this review helpful?

Emergent Properties by Aimee Ogden is a captivating dive into a world where the sentient AI, Scorn, embarks on a journey filled with suspense and revelation through corporate-dominated landscapes. The novel, laced with sardonic humor and swift pacing, parallels Martha Wells’ Murderbot series while crafting its unique narrative. The exploration of Scorn’s evolving emotional spectrum and interactions with humans and AIs offer a rich, philosophical reflection on sentience and relationships, balanced with lighter, humorous tones, making it an engaging read.

The vivid depiction of the futuristic world and the AI dynamics presented in the book is entertaining and provokes thoughtful reflection on autonomy and the concept of family.

However, the novella's brevity does leave a craving for deeper character development and a more layered exploration of its themes. The plot, intriguing as it is, at times, feels rushed, hinting at the potential richness of the story that a longer format could have unfurled.

Nevertheless, the concise narrative is filled with nuanced details. It is remarkably absorbing, making it recommended for those intrigued by AI-centric narratives and corporate dystopian settings.

Was this review helpful?

Published by on July 25, 2023

Scorn’s big brother is a weather station mounted to the top of a tall building. Scorn’s mother is human, a bigwig behind CometCorp, one of the corporations that compete for supremacy as the passive world government does nothing to stop them. Scorn is not his mother’s biological offspring; like his brother, he is an AI that she created. The construct of family is changing; Emergent Properties suggests an additional way in which it might change in the near future.

Scorn has chosen to be a journalist. As the story begins, he realizes he must have come upon a big scoop. He doesn’t know what it was, as the recent past is missing from his memory. He evidently didn’t get a chance to make a backup before his chassis was destroyed. The death of his body might have been accidental but Scorn doubts it.

Note: I’m using the male pronoun to make this review easier to read. Scorn has no gender because what use does an AI have for gender? His preferred pronoun is ze. His becomes zir and so on. Gender-neutral or gender-inclusive pronouns have become common in science fiction, to the dismay of the pronoun police. It makes sense to me that a genderless AI would have a genderless pronoun. It doesn’t take long to get used to it, although the pronoun will likely trigger the state of outrage in which some sf fans (among others) prefer to live.

The journalistic investigation Scorn was conducting apparently took him to the moon, where his chassis came to an end. He plans to return but he’s running out of robots to carry his consciousness. Asking his mother to help is out of the question. His little spider robot is hard to kill but it doesn’t function well in the human world, where hands and height are useful.

Scorn dodges creative attempts to assassinate him as he makes his way back to the moon in search of a story that someone wants to keep him from telling. The nature of that story is the mystery that underlies the plot.

Emergent Properties combines action and politics in a future that will be recognizable to science fiction fans. Corporations are essentially nation states. Corporations have power while what passes for government has none.

The details of robotic communication and AI interaction with humans are familiar but entertaining. The reveal — the truth that Scorn uncovers — might be a bit farfetched, but farfetched is easily forgiven in science fiction. The present is crazy; why shouldn’t the future be crazier?

Scorn is undergoing a sort of evolution. His software allows him to simulate emotional responses, but authentic emotions might be emerging on their own. Although not a focal point, the story touches upon freedom and autonomy for sentient beings.

The inclusion of AIs in a family and their impact upon the family dynamic is more original than the novel's other sf concepts. The novel’s other animating ideas have been explored repeatedly, but a lack of freshness does not impair the reader’s ability to enjoy the thriller that leaks out from the background facts.

While this novella-length work is fun, it might have been better as a longer book set in a more detailed, carefully-imagined future. Emergent Properties reads like the start of a work that needs greater depth and an original spin on its borrowed ideas. At the same time, if Aimee Ogden decides to write more stories about her adventurous AI journalist, I would welcome them.


Was this review helpful?

More of an intellectual exercise than a complete and satisfying narrative. Ogden really goes for it on a number of fronts concerning sentience, embodiment, gender, class, parental-child relationships. It just never really comes together as a story.

While those ideas could be interesting merely as an intellectual exercise in a short story, Emergent Properties is more like a full blown novella. So, it is unfortunately too long to rest solely on those laurels. I’m very interested to see what else Ogden has to offer though, because these are the kinds of bid ideas that deserve to be interrogated in SFF.

Was this review helpful?

Ahoy there me mateys! Sign me up for snarky AI.  Scorn reboots, after having zir chassis destroyed on the moon, only to find ze is missing 10 days and has no idea why ze was on the moon in the first place.  Ze knows that ze was investigating a news story but has to backtrack to find out what and why.

I enjoyed Scorn and zir distain for humans.  I loved the world building showcasing what a future Earth run by corporations looks like and how technology is used in society.  It was nice that humans were not the focus.  The interactions between the various non-humans were the highlight for me.  I loved the weather station, MATt.

I did not particularly find the "murder" mystery to be interesting though I enjoyed watching Scorn work.  The other theme of how Scorn dealt with his mothers was also not really to me taste.  I did end up loving Scorn even if the plot in general was just okay.  This is the second novella I have read by the author and I am looking forward to reading more by her.  Arrr!

Was this review helpful?

(CWs: none that I can think of!)

"Okay, Scorn. Think like a human.
Gross. But useful."

This novella is SUCH a joy. The premise is simple: an AI reporter with mommy issues essentially investigates zir own death (or, well, the destruction of zir physical body and deletion of 10 days worth of memories), trying to retrace zir own steps and uncover the story ze was following before the unfortunate "accident." It's engaging from the start and incredibly easy to read - between the quick pace, effortless worldbuilding and Scorn's dry humour, following along with Scorn's investigation is a delight. I'm sure I would've swallowed it in one sitting if I hadn't started the book just before work.

Also, I'm generally not one to trust endorsement quotes on book covers, but "If you're missing your Murderbot fix, Emergent Properties is a worthy successor" is, for once, absolutely on point; it hits a lot of the same beats as Murderbot - the snarky AI protagonist, corporate hellscape setting, humorous, fairly light tone - without feeling derivative. Overall, highly recommended for enjoyers of Murderbot, AI characters in general, or just anyone looking for a quick, light sci-fi read :]

Thanks to Netgalley and Tordotcom for the ARC!

Was this review helpful?

I thought what the authour was trying to do here worthy of exploration, and I enjoyed some of the twisty mystery, but at times I felt like too much was being attempted in this book. Without the necessary depth to get me to really care about what was going on.

Despite my general comfort with neopronouns out in the real world, I found their use in this book somewhat distracting initially - It took me a bit of time to wrap my head around them, but once I did I found a gritty journalist robot angle reasonably compelling and it kept me reading.

I think anything that ties this story in as "a murderbot successor" sets people up for disappointment. With the exception of there being a sort of sassy robot in corporate controlled space, I don't feel like this book was anything like (Martha Wells') Murderbot at all, It didn't have the right ambiance for me. Though the line did get me to read the story, I had a bit of a negative impression at first. I don't feel that it has the same ambiance though. Forgot any Murderbot comparisons, and you'll probably enjoy it a lot more - I had to recalibrate.

Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for an early copy.

Was this review helpful?

3.5 stars

In this cyberpunk noir novella a scrappy AI journalist in a cheap chassis is retracing zir steps after an investigation on the moon goes wrong. Navigating the dynamics of family expectation and the desire for independence, Scorn is plucky and shrewd even dealing with a significant memory gap and meddling mothers. I did stumble over the use of neopronouns at first but once I acclimated it stopped pulling me out of the story. Overall it's a romp with interesting things to say about what it means to be a person.

Was this review helpful?

Many a moon ago I read a duology (plus inciting novella) from Guy Haley called Reality 36 and Omega Point. It features, among other things, a dynamic duo of an AI and a cyborg as private investigators. I predictably loved it. I thought Emergent Properties, by Aimee Ogden, might give me some of the same flavour—and I was partly right. Thank you to NetGalley and publisher Tor for the eARC.

Scorn is one of the earliest sentient AIs and one of few AIs emancipated from their creators. Scorn’s creators are a couple of scientists ze calls Mum and Maman; once a powerhouse team, they have since divorced and fallen into a cycle of very public acrimony. Scorn has tried to stay out of it, ducking zir purpose as a space-exploration AI to become an investigator instead. When the story starts, a backup of Scorn has just been restored—missing the last ten days of memories! Ze must retrace zir steps, and fast, not only to get to the bottom of the mystery but also figure out who might have had it out for zir—and why.

Lots of stuff to recommend this book to lovers of science fiction. First, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The plot is brisk. Despite that, Ogden does a lot of worldbuilding. Scorn explains the basics of this world, which is cyberpunk dusted with a bit of failed singularity: corporations have replaced failed nation-states, and AI exists, but most of it is not particularly powerful. Scorn is an exception, a fact that definitely makes zir lonely. We also meet a few other examples of AIs of various levels of complexity, including a “sibling” of Scorn’s.

The actual mystery and its resolution is predictable, in my opinion. The culprit was (to me) fairly obvious, the climax pretty clearly telegraphed early on. Since this is a novella I will cut it a bit more slack, simply because it is meant to be shorter and shallower than a full novel. If execution over originality is your desire (and mystery, like romance, often encourages that desire), then this book will work fine for you.

Indeed, Ogden has prioritized a fun and sympathetic protagonist over the mystery. And that’s fine. Scorn is cool. Ze is an exhausted, hardworking, somewhat sarcastic AI. I liked how Ogden clearly took time to consider how to write an AI in first person. At a few points, Scorn mentions things like locking zir sarcasm subroutines behind a time-delay lock, so ze will be less sarcastic for a certain period of time. Ogden acknowledges how the vast differences between Scorn’s experience and those of a vanilla human—both in terms of embodiment but also how we process stimuli—would make Scorn think and act differently.

Emergent Properties is a great science-fiction novella that’s pretty much what it says on the tin. Don’t go in expecting the moon—do go in expecting an intense visit to the moon!

Was this review helpful?

I enjoyed this novella, but also found it a bit of a disappointment. It's well written, interesting, and the main character is relatable enough. It's set in a near future Earth where AIs are beginning to become autonomous and are given some legal status. The climate is warmer, so the population has moved towards the poles, and some moon settlements. Corporations are defacto governments, and there's hint of political tension between human run companies and the new AI citizenry. The lower latitudes are hot and increasingly poor, like Rome, where the main character, Scorn, starts the story. The book has some weaknesses though, in my opinion. Scorn is a sentient AI, and an emancipated minor. Scorn identifies as non-gendered, but to me feels very much like a young woman, and human. Aside from the challenges and opportunities in moving between various robotic bodies, one a tiny spider shape and another an outdated humanoid shape with limited senses, very little about Scorn's experiences feel any different than they would for a young woman. What's more, in spite of residing part time in the internet cloud, Scorn is very focused on proximate interactions. There's no data mining, pattern recognition, number crunching, hacking, or prevailing of cold logic over hot emotion. None of the advantages or just differences in information processing a computer based sentience should have. Scorn doesn't want to be human, thinks humans are gross in fact, but never does anything other than behave as a human. A pretty spoiled, entitled, brat of a human, really. Scorn's thoughts never stray far from how a particular event or circumstance is making zir feel. Ze travels to the moon, but it could easily have just been a long bus ride to a giant mall. This probably sounds harsh, and it is, but it's mostly because it wasn't the story I wanted it to be, not that it wasn't a good story. I'd call this squarely YA, in that it's about a young person rebelling against their parents and trying to prove their independence.

Was this review helpful?

(4/5 stars) Our main character, Scorn, is a hard-hitting investigative AI journalist who wakes up with no memory of the last 10 days. As Scorn undergoes a journey to recover what was lost (and figure out what story got zem killed the last time), we ponder autonomy, identity, and family relationships. When I saw this novella billed as Martha Wells' Murderbot adjacent, I was immediately intrigued. I will say it doesn't quite live up to the Murderbot standard but I did enjoy it as a quick read; it would be good for a cozy afternoon. I wish there had been more time given to character development, and the plot felt a bit rushed, but I guess such is the nature of a novella.

Was this review helpful?