Sunday, July 06, 2008

Review: Saturn's Children

This is Charlie Stross' first novel to come out both in the kindle format simultaneous with the hardcover, so I immediately bought it to show my support (that and I like Stross' prior works). This short novel is about a post-human society. Yes, a science fiction novel where humans have become extinct while leaving behind a detritus of robots and other automatons searching for their destiny.

The narrator and viewpoint character is Freya, a sexbot who was instantiated long after the last human has died off. She offends a high ranking (aristo) bot and is forced to flee the system and take on a new persona --- that of a spy and courier. Circumstances force her to insert the soul chip of a sibling named Juliette into one of her slots, which starts to give Freya dreams based on Juliette's life. The plot deepens when she discovers (through Juliette) that her line of bots can be upgraded to become assassins and spies, and things get complicated from there.

Stross has managed to work out many of the interesting details behind a robot-only society (especially one that was built to serve man at the deep fundamental level). For instance, from a bot point of view, creationism is the correct "religion." Late in the book, this passage arises which I found really funny:

"This is our fruit garden. Fruits are the fertilized reproductive organs of the plants you see all around us --- often one tree would bear both male and female flowers, so our Creators, being largely fruitivorous, subsisted on a diet rich in hermaphrodite genitalia..."

Because of the energy requirements of interplanetary (and interstellar) travel, later generations of interplanetary traveling bots would be smaller and lighter, making sexbot models like Freya Ogres by comparison.

The big weakness of the novel is that the ending feels rushed, where the reveals all cascade together, making it tough to keep track of what's going on. The ending does seem a little pat, with poetic justice all around, but that's a slight fault.

Recommended as light airplane reading --- it flows smoothly and isn't as dense as Glasshouse.
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