An Exclusive Excerpt From io9 Co-Founder Annalee Newitz’s New Novel, Autonomous

So you guys may remember the name Annalee Newitz. I mean, she only-co-created this very site and ran it as editor-in-chief from 2008 through 2015. So I thought you may be interested in reading a preview from Autonomous, her first novel, which bestselling scifi author Neal Stephenson describes thusly: “Autonomous is to biotech and AI what Neuromancer was to the Internet.”

Annalee has a message for all you io9ers:

You’re about to read an excerpt from my first novel, Autonomous, which I wrote while I was running io9. At that time, the site was devoted to covering science and science fiction in equal amounts, and I was high on the fumes generated by a smashup between advances in real-life biotech and what pop culture imagined about it. I will always be grateful to io9’s staffers and commenters for giving me a place to dream up something utterly weird about the future.

I first had the idea for my robot character Paladin—whom you’ll meet in this excerpt—after visiting a UC Berkeley seismology lab. It was in a cavernous building for simulating earthquakes, and featured something humbly called a “reaction wall,” which was actually a heavily reinforced, two-storey surface fitted with gigantic, powerful actuators. To simulate the stresses of an earthquake, the researchers would use the actuators to deform and torque various experimental structures—buildings, bridges, whatever. I got to see the interface for programming the reaction wall, and the pieces of broken concrete support columns it had produced in a previous experiment.

I asked the researchers a lot of questions, but there was one line of questioning that was just way too bizarro to share with anyone but myself. What it would be like to have actuators instead of arms and legs? What if the machines in that wall were part of my body? What would it feel like to control them? Would I experience pain if I had grit in my joints?

I wrote a novel to answer that question. Paladin first came to life for me in…

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