Since Frankenstein, science fiction has worried about the consequences of creating artificial life. Would we make monsters (or robots, or monster-robots) that would destroy their creators? Or can we duplicate whatever it is that makes us human? (That begs the question of whether or not that’s even something to which any self-respecting monster—or machine—should aspire.) My first encounter with the question came in college, when I first saw Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The answers there were yes and empathy, with the film portraying replicants as more human than the real humans, rebelling against their creator(s), and also against the corporate system that enslaved them.
Twenty-odd years later, Martha Wells’ Network Effect (and the rest of the Murderbot Diaries) still grapples with the essence of that question, but also reframes it. She throws out the human/machine binary and focuses more closely on how the effects of capitalism, condemned by default in Blade Runner, are entwined with notions of personhood.