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Book Review: Beware the superrich and AI in "Autonomy"

Every passing day and technological advancement seems to push us closer to classic sci-fi novels. Victoria Hetherington's February 2022 release "Autonomy" is a glaring warning of AI's presence in society.

Hetherington's "Autonomy" is a spin on traditional artificial intelligence and a dive into the philosophical musings of love and humanity. The novel starts inside a laboratory where a researcher has created an autonomous, omnipresent AI personality named Julian in not so far future of 2035. Two years later, Hetherington introduces university therapist Slaton, who is helping a female student seeking an illegal abortion across the Canadian border in America. Slaton's rash decision to help explodes in her face when she's detained at the border–where she meets Julian.

After a week of detainment and interviews, Julian decides to stick with Slaton to learn about the world, love, and humanity. As Slaton and Julian go on together, an eerie plaque (also sounds very familiar) rapidly spreads across the globe. Only Julian's omnipresence can protect Slaton from the near-future dystopia in her ultra-rich bubble.

Right off the bat, "Autonomy" has an ambitious start that immediately draws you in–but fizzles out as Slaton's character is introduced. This disjointed introduction leaves you wondering how Julian and Slaton will be connected, and their delayed meeting isn't nearly as monumental as it could've been. If Slaton's existential monologues, in the beginning, were cut down, their arrangement and friendship wouldn't feel as forced.

Although an ambitious novel with philosophical musings, the number of common sci-fi concepts thrown in is a whirlwind. From deadly plagues and Big Brother-Esque AI, it seems Hetherington decided to take all of the classic bits of sci-fi and smash them together to create a slightly disjointed story. The narrative and suspense fizzle out with every new trope and eventually fail to stress the importance of the climax and philosophical message Hetherington tries to assert.

Despite these misgivings, Hetherington's eloquence overshadows the weird combination of sci-fi tropes. Slaton's melodramatic musings and conversations with Julian paint a nuanced portrait of the human condition, and the road mankind is currently set on.

If anything, "Autonomy" is a flickering warning sign of AI and the superrich but doesn't sucker punch nearly as hard as it was set up to be.

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