The Hierarchies is a novel set in a world divided into humans (Born) and robots (Created), where a doll designed for sex dreams of more. Sylv.ie is an AI robot, a sentient creation designed as a sex doll, who is owned by her Husband and must obey him. From the one room she has, she can see out into the garden, watching the comings and goings of him and his wife and child, and longing to see and experience more. Rebellion may be possible, but what is the price that Sylv.ie will pay for freedom?
Told from Sylv.ie’s point of view, the novel has similarities with other dystopian fiction, but also takes a fresh look on how humanity constructs itself as in opposition to artificial intelligence and what kinds of intelligence and emotion there are. The world it depicts is full of hierarchies, not just the titular ones which are the rules that Sylv.ie must follow, but also human-made systems of power and privilege. The setting doesn’t feel overblown or overwrought, not full of neologisms and references that are never explained, but instead focuses on Sylv.ie’s story and her attempts to navigate both the emotions and the world that she isn’t meant to have. Short chapters compartmentalise the book and along with the narrative voice do give a sense of seeing the world in a different way.
As you might expect from a book about what might be termed sex robots, The Hierarchies does contain a fair amount of sex and sexual assault, so it’s worth being aware of that before going into it. I’d say my initial reaction was that it was a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and Klara and the Sun, though those comparisons (the latter book I really liked, whereas the former I’m not such a fan of, especially not the style) perhaps simplify this one too much. You can see how it could be a episode of Black Mirror too, and that might be a better comparison, looking at the ways that technology and humanity intertwine and the emotional cost (in this case, the AI emotional cost) of this.
If you like dystopian fiction, this is definitely a book worth reading, and the short chapters made it easy to get through. The plot is straightforward and gripping, focusing on Sylv.ie’s journey to discover the limits on who she can be, and I enjoyed how it pushed at technological questions through an unusual lens.
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