Newitz, Annalee. Autonomous

A smart, rich, immersive cyberpunk thriller, which manages to make some quite fantastical and potentially space operatic worldbuilding feel plausible, grounded, and perhaps not even that far off. The novel is faintly pervaded by economic themes, in particular:
  • Intellectual Property law, especially pharmaceutical patents, and especially as it pertains to corporate power;
  • the blurred and ductile line between state power and the power of large multinationals (a perennial cyberpunk theme);
  • the work ethic, the experience of work, and the ways in which work can shape and degrade the worker's body and soul; and
  • slavery -- a key premise in the novel is that the rise of artificial sapient nonhumans (bots) has, along with other factors, led to a degradation of the legal status of the human, so that both bots and humans are vulnerable to legalised indenture.
Abigail Nussbaum writes:
As Newitz repeatedly makes clear, the effect of creating a sentient underclass who can perform labor is to erase the distinction between people and machines. Not only are sentient beings enslaved under the justification of being machines, but humans are expected to behave in ways that are more machine-like if they want to compete.
Nussbaum, 'A Political History of the Future: Autonomous by Analee Newitz'