Machinehood: A near-future SF thriller that feels realistic

Machinehood by S.B. Divya science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsMachinehood by S.B. Divya science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsMachinehood by S.B. Divya

“If they get everyone to stop taking pills and give bots equal rights, humanity is screwed.”

It’s 2095 and humans rely on drugs to stay healthy as well as physically and cognitively competitive in a gig economy where they must compete with artificial intelligence for jobs.

Cameras everywhere tend to keep violent urges in check, so life is fairly peaceful for Welga Ramirez, a 35-year-old physically-upgraded bodyguard who’s happy to have steady employment (most people don’t) and is looking forward to being transferred to a desk job soon. She’s also thinking about turning her passion for “slow cooking” into a business in which her hired chefs will use performance-enhancing drugs to speed up their kitchens.

But when the Machinehood strikes, publicly assassinating Welga’s current client and threatening all of the pill producers, the government asks Welga to investigate the terrorist group. This is an extremely dangerous job which is complicated by Welga’s recent seizures which might be tied to the pills she’s been taking. After an internal struggle, she decides to accept the job because it will give her a sense of closure for her current position, and she sees it as a way to help society.

Welga must discover what the Machinehood is, where they’ve been hiding, and what their views and goals are. Are they even human? And could it be possible that they’re actually right about how they see the world? Even if they’re right, is it okay for them to force their will on the rest of the planet, killing some people in the process? Is the Machinehood promising to usher in a new more wonderful future for humans, or is this just the latest form of oppression?

S.B. Divya

S.B. Divya

S.B. Divya’s Machinehood (2021) is a near-future science-fiction thriller that feels realistic. I believed in Divya’s speculation about how our society is moving towards an economy that’s divided into two tiers — those who create, and those who serve and must constantly hustle for gigs. People in both of these groups are exploited, stressed, and addicted to the pills they use so they can compete with each other and keep up with machines.

It was this speculative vision of our future, and the thoughts about how humans might change and evolve to confront it, and the ethical dilemmas we’ll face along the way, that I found most compelling about Machinehood. I also enjoyed the exciting plot (explosions!) and Divya’s characters. Welga is a likable and interesting hero, but my favorite character was her sister-in-law, an Indian biochemist whose productivity, and therefore income, is threatened by an unplanned pregnancy. With her background, and some unexpected free time, she wants to help Welga figure out what’s causing her seizures.

Machinehood is a thoughtful exploration of a possible human future. It’s a book that I’ll recommend to my students who study neuroscience. It was interesting to read this during the COVID pandemic. In Divya’s possible future, pandemics are common. Hackers create them, but scientists can generate an antidote within hours which people can cook up in their own kitchens at home. Wouldn’t that be nice? Other recent real-world events that Divya alludes to include a refugee crisis and political activism morphing into extremism.

The audio version of Machinehood, produced by Simon & Schuster Audio, is 11.5 hours long and brilliantly narrated by Inés del Castillo and Deepti Gupti. I recommend this version!

Published in March 2021. From the Hugo Award nominee S.B. Divya, Zero Dark Thirty meets The Social Network in this science fiction thriller about artificial intelligence, sentience, and labor rights in a near future dominated by the gig economy. Welga Ramirez, executive bodyguard and ex-special forces, is about to retire early when her client is killed in front of her. It’s 2095 and people don’t usually die from violence. Humanity is entirely dependent on pills that not only help them stay alive, but allow them to compete with artificial intelligence in an increasingly competitive gig economy. Daily doses protect against designer diseases, flow enhances focus, zips and buffs enhance physical strength and speed, and juvers speed the healing process. All that changes when Welga’s client is killed by The Machinehood, a new and mysterious terrorist group that has simultaneously attacked several major pill funders. The Machinehood operatives seem to be part human, part machine, something the world has never seen. They issue an ultimatum: stop all pill production in one week. Global panic ensues as pill production slows and many become ill. Thousands destroy their bots in fear of a strong AI takeover. But the US government believes the Machinehood is a cover for an old enemy. One that Welga is uniquely qualified to fight. Welga, determined to take down the Machinehood, is pulled back into intelligence work by the government that betrayed her. But who are the Machinehood and what do they really want? A thrilling and thought-provoking novel that asks: if we won’t see machines as human, will we instead see humans as machines?

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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6 comments

  1. Another one goes on the list!

  2. Yep. My list is taller than I am now thanks to you guys. =)
    Your books on the list too Marion.

  3. Oh no! No audiobooks!

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