S.B. Divya’s Machinehood brims with equally familiar and foreign concepts—predatory mega-corporations, and public performativity, and the fear of rogue AI are widespread parts of our present and so much of our near future; at the same time, Divya offers an earnest look at one person’s path to radical change, and perhaps the biggest fiction of all: humanity’s ability to accept the need for change. So much of its narrative journey hinges on its reader’s own biases around ambient Islamophobia and American exceptionalism, almost to the point where digesting the novel’s first few acts feels like taking in a bizarro Tom Clancy storyline.
In Divya’s future, the world relies on WAIs (weak artificial intelligence), public tip jars that function like existential Patreons, smart self-configuring material called “blox,” and a massive mass-produced pill industry to stay mentally and physiologically on par with robots. Everyone has a personal agent—a WAI implant that functions as a 24/7 networked concierge; Welga’s is named Por Qué, which she got when she was just seventeen. We’re introduced to protagonist Olga “Welga” Ramirez as a private security guard (or “shield”) with a decorated military past, but she’s more interested in good coffee, slow food, and carving out a stable existence with her partner, Connor. Naturally, this doesn’t last for long—it turns out that Welga has to save the world.