I have always found myself drawn to dystopian fiction and stories involving artificial intelligence so I was very excited to have the opportunity to read Ros Anderson’s debut novel, The Hierarchies, which was published last month by Dead Ink Books.
The story is narrated by Sylv.ie who we learn from the opening pages is a humanoid pleasure doll, a robot taking the form of a woman for the purposes of providing her husband with pleasure, and companionship, along with a number of tasks in the name of ‘normal’ social interactions. Her existence involves adhering to the four hierarchies, rules which state she must live to serve her husband, to obey him and fulfill his needs, whilst also not proving a threat to his existing family relationships. We see the difficulties this poses for our kind and curious protagonist, as she is kept away with no access to the rest of the family, only to watch family life unfold from the outskirts, attending to her husband’s sexual needs, as well as being a willing participant in conversation, and games of chess. I was quickly drawn into this story and grew attached to Sylv.ie’s character. There is a naivete to her voice, but she is intelligent and observant, capable of absorbing the information she picks up in her books in a way most of us bookworm’s can only dream of! She seems reasonably content with her world and her role, the life she shares with her husband, however strange, that is until she returns from a trip to the doll hospital with an impaired memory, and she begins to struggle to process the life she has become accustomed to, and how she may escape it…
I really enjoyed this book and thought it was wonderfully written with an intriguing plot that keeps your interest. And in terms of the structure it was broken down into parts with lots of short, sharp chapters which I also like as it gives the book that ‘just one more chapter’ feel! I am always intrigued by stories featuring robots and artificial intelligence which imagine a world in which they are commonplace and in The Hierarchies that is no exception. This dystopian world that Anderson has created is one that at once feels far away and also perfectly plausible. It raises some interesting questions about womanhood and about gender roles in society, with Sylv.ie and many like her created to fulfill their partners sexual needs, perhaps hinting at the level of expectation placed on women to perform a certain role – in this case a robot ‘replacing’ them after having a child to ensure their husbands needs are met whilst they adjust to raising a child, for example. It also explores the opposition from humans to robots, with concerns raised over people being replaced with these carefully crafted robots. It is certainly a thought provoking read, and one that is also shocking as we see the darkest aspects of life as an AI, with Sylv.ie’s trip to a sinister doll hospital in which she witnesses dolls being modified to remain fit for purpose, and when dolls are discarded or abandoned when no longer required. This is something that becomes particularly startling and distressing when you consider the level of intelligence and empathy Sylv.ie possesses, and the reader starts to question what it is that makes us human, and how we are treated differently in our society today, and in the future.
The Hierarchies is a brilliant debut that I thoroughly enjoyed with an unforgettable protagonist that I was rooting for throughout. A book in which we become immersed in an intriguing dystopian world, and see what might happen when someone, or something, chooses to rebel.
The Hierarchies was published on 17th June 2021 by Dead Ink Books. With thanks to Jordan Taylor-Jones for providing a proof copy for review.