The Third Machine Dynasty, Book III

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Pub Date Jul 14 2020 | Archive Date Jun 16 2020

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In the third and final installment of the Machine Dynasty, the rapture for which the self-replicating humanoids, the vN, were engineered for, finally comes to pass. Now that the failsafe that once kept vN from harming humans has been hacked, all vN are discovering the promise – and the peril – of free will.

With her consciousness unleashed across computer systems all across the world, the vicious vN Portia stands poised to finally achieve her lifelong dream of bringing humanity to its knees. The old battle between her and her granddaughter Amy comes to an epic conclusion in the war for the very systems that keeps the planet running. Can Amy get her family to the stars before Portia destroys every opportunity for escape and freedom?

File Under: Science Fiction [ Family Feuds | The End of Days | Internet Ex-Portia | What will be? ]

In the third and final installment of the Machine Dynasty, the rapture for which the self-replicating humanoids, the vN, were engineered for, finally comes to pass. Now that the failsafe that once...

Advance Praise


“VN is a clever book with a wonderful ending by a writer who is well versed in AI technology, who can evoke sympathy with a few well-turned phrases and tells a satisfyingly complex story.”

– Eric Brown, The Guardian

“Ashby intelligently and brutally explores the way people are willing to abuse, devalue and destroy any form of consciousness they’re able to define as ‘other’, while the robots challenge the limits of love, devotion and life after death.”

– Toronto Globe & Mail, on iD

“Picks up where Blade Runner left off and maps territories Ridley Scott barely even glimpsed. vN might just be the most piercing interrogation of humanoid AI since Asimov kicked it all off with the Three Laws.”

– Peter Watts, author of the Rifters trilogy

“Will AIs be objects, or people? Caught between the category of human and everything else, we can’t think about the very real entities that inhabit — and will inhabit — the excluded middle. Madeline Ashby’s done more than just think about that territory; she’s made it her home. Person; object; we need new words for things that are neither — and in vN, Ashby provides them.”

– Karl Schroeder, author of the Virga series

“In Ashby’s expert hands vN cuts a painful incision into the emotional complexity of oppression in our society, and the way love can feed the worst kinds of hate. vN is a powerful novel and a fine exemplar of exactly the perspectives chauvinist SF so often stifles.”

– Damien G. Walter Women Authors in Hard SF, The Guardian

“vN is a strikingly fresh work of mind-expanding science fiction.”

– Charlie Jane Anders,


“VN is a clever book with a wonderful ending by a writer who is well versed in AI technology, who can evoke sympathy with a few well-turned phrases and tells...

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ISBN 9780857665386
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Featured Reviews

Madeline Ashby's "ReV" is a dramatic, innovative, exciting, and fitting ending to the "vN" trilogy. At the end of "iD," part two of the saga, Amy had mysteriously iterated, but "ReV" shows that the result is nothing like we might expect. Overall, the "vN" trilogy has been fantastic and intriguing, from the first "dynasty" to the final epilogue. We started with Portia and Amy and Javier in "vN." We followed the story of Javier and his serial Juniors in "iD," along with Javier's quest to resurrect the love of his life. In "ReV," we get to the culmination of their stories and see the resolution of numerous questions brought up along the way. The title "ReV" has that brilliant triple meaning (kudos to the author): "revelation," "revision," and "revolution." Portia and Amy consistently trade on all three of these throughout the story. Of course, there is conflict—Portia is there, after all. The futures of both the humans and the vN are in trouble. Of course, there is innovation—Amy is there, after all. There are explicit references to cultural conceptions of "robots," from serfs and slaves throughout history, to Asimov's "quaint" modernity (Portia's word, not mine), to the postmodernity of Westworld. There are even a few sly allusions to the future of "Ghost in the Shell." The author consistently challenges the reader's preconceptions of androids with empathy, creativity, love, and the question of choice in nearly every aspect of life. Most of these concepts are persistently revised in the world of vN that the author has developed here, eventually tipping over the edge into revolution. There is a base story of religion, provided by the backstory of the vN (make sure you read "iD" if you don't know that part). The vN origin story is challenged, even overturned, by the undercurrent of evolution in Amy's life, in her choices and actions. "Rev" is Amy's revelation of what is possible for her species, her revision of both the vN themselves and their role among humanity, and a revolution in the eventual fate of the vN that her enlightenment brings about.

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If ever a book was going to engender distrust with AI then its this book! I’m now wondering if I can even trust my microwave 😉 this is a very cerebral book but that is a bonus, too often we read books that are light on content and eminently forgettable, I won’t be forgetting this book I can assure you, a superb read

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ReV is the third and final book in Madeline Ashby's "Machine Dynasty" trilogy, which began with 2012's "vN". The trilogy features a world in which a genius con man created AI robots, VonNeumanns (aka vNs), which can self replicate with enough food and serve as servants, sexbots, companions and more for humanity, all of which have a "failsafe" which prevents them from tolerating any sort of harm to humans. Or well, they're supposed to, hence the series. The trilogy's first two novels came out in 2012 and 2013 and were among the first two books I read when I began reading SF/F again, with this trilogy ender being listed on Amazon as coming shortly thereafter. I really enjoyed the first novel in the trilogy, and though I didn't love the 2nd one, I was excited to see where it would all end up.

Only Rev didn't come, and after a year of occasionally checking for a release date (and the book's listing seemingly being dropped) I gave up on ever expecting it to (Ashby would release a different novel in the meantime). So I was surprised to see Rev pop up for a review copy on Netgalley, and requested it out of sheer curiosity. Of course, that meant that when I was accepted for it, I suddenly had an issue in how little I remembered from the original two books, which could've been a problem. I managed to skim the first few chapters of book 2 and the final 2 chapters to refresh my recollection, and hoped that would be fine.

I needn't have worried too much - ReV is a really enjoyable and interesting trilogy ender, and one that works if you only have the barest of refreshers of what happened in the first two novels (going in blind is not fully advisable, but you can probably pull it off based upon your years old recollection). The story switches its perspective to the trilogy's prior main antagonist, which really alters the tone to a far more humorous one, while still also keeping alive some of its themes. It also ends on a note that is full of far more righteous fury than I remember in the other two novels, but it also absolutely works. It has some content that I don't exactly love - but less than its predecessors mind you - but it's still a really interesting short novel.

Trigger Warning: Sexual/Physical Abuse: There is no explicit rape in this novel but a major theme of this series has always been an inability to give consent and while that's largely not an issue for the main characters in this book for once, some side characters suffer abuse in some small scenes at times. If you enjoyed the first two books enough to want to read this though, you've already been through worse.

Note; The Amazon summary for this book is......not good. So let's try a better one:

-----------------------------------------------Plot Summary--------------------------------------------------------

"This is the true story of how I destroyed humanity. And saved the world."

Amy Peterson and her family are safe - for now - in the vN city of Mecha, and Amy's plan to remove the failsafe from vN around the world has been put into motion. But when the some of the first freed vNs, working at a dracula-themed pleasure park, decide to take advantage of their newfound ability to harm humans by engaging in wholesale slaughter, it becomes clear that the status quo will not hold. Soon the humans turn to the creator of vNs to try to obtain his secret backup plan of dealing with the failure of the failsafe and Amy begins to work in secret on her plan to take all of the vNs off planet to a world of their own: Mars.

But watching this all happen is Portia, Amy's psychopathic grandmother, the first vN to manage to get around the failsafe and harm humans. Amy and Portia have reached a detente, with Portia free to roam the networked systems of the world but without a body, and able to freely interact with members of the family except for Amy herself. But while Portia may be biased in wanting nothing but destruction for humanity and in being frustrated at the altruistic actions of her granddaughter, she knows that Amy's plans for escape may not come to fruition fast enough....and that if nothing is done to stop them, the humans may find a new weapon to destroy all that the vNs have gained.

As Amy plans, and Amy's children - her daughter Esperanza and Javier's son Xavier - try to figure out their lives, it will fall to Portia - the being they always fought, the destroyer who wanted nothing more than to kill, the one who started it all - to do what is necessary for them to survive......


Book 1 in in this trilogy, vN, was told from Amy's point of view, whereas Book 2 was told from Javier's. That sort of made sense - Amy was is our Big Good of this series by the end of book 1, and Javier is the hapless love interest trying to make sense of things after everything goes to hell at the start of book 2. Book 3, with some weird flash forward interludes aside (and even there), takes a hard right turn by switching the point of view to that of Portia, Amy's psychopathic grandmother. In a way this is a cheat - since Portia exists in every networked computer system and lacks a body, it's almost as if we have a third person omniscient narrator - but the book wholly justifies it, with what see happening always colored by Portia's own emotions and reactions.

This results in some ways in a very different tone - Portia is almost godlike in power at times, and is utterly unashamed of using it willy-nilly, and still is psychopathic, at least where humanity is concerned. So throughout the narrative, as she talks to other characters or feels emotions that annoy her, she'll as an aside kill some humans somewhere just because she can and it makes her feel better. This somehow makes the tone of this novel amazingly irreverent and downright funny at times, despite the seriousness of what is going on, and it works really well. And Portia as a character works quite well too, growing in ways I did not see coming (especially with the interludes suggesting something wholly different) from beginning to end.

The result is a plot that is highly enjoyable, as all the characters act and grow in interesting ways, and the book manages to inject tension somehow despite how omnipotent Amy and Portia seem to be at times. Characters such as Esperanza and Xavier grow in some interesting ways as well, and the world moves in a believable form as it reacts to the horrors caused by a massacre by vN (which takes place in the first chapter - the only one not told from Portia's perspective - and is something to behold). And the plot continues to focus on the same serious themes of what it means to have control and not to have control in terms of consent, as the now free vN find themselves hunted even more for their newfound control.

I wonder honestly how much the plot of this book changed in the years since the book was first announced and then went unpublished. It would explain not just the really off plot summary on marketing websites, but also the righteous fury involved in this book: because as the quote I started the plot summary with makes clear (and that quote is from chapter 2, it's not a spoiler), this is a fiery book in the end. What is the answer to persecution as a result of one's liberation? Is it simply to get away? This book answers no: there has to be more, or else it will recur over and over again. And it makes this work.

It's a short book, and honestly the thing I liked the least about it was its epilogue (in which a character comes back from nowhere for some reason), but I'm glad it finally came out to finish the trilogy. Look forward to seeing Ashby start something new next.

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