Saturn's Children by Charles Stross

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Saturn's Children by Charles Stross

Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: Asimov-meets-Philip K Dick-with-a-sprinkling-of-Douglas Adams in this space opera set in a convincingly depicted post-human world of robots. Fun, erudite, entertaining - recommended beach read for s-f fans.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: July 2009
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841495682

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My first encounter with Charles Stross was through Halting State, a William Gibson-meets-Christopher Brookmyre near-future post-cyberpunk crime caper. Saturn's Children is a different species within broadly the same habitat, a not-so-near-future space-opera thriller, more of a Asimov-meets-Philip K Dick-with-a-sprinkling-of-Douglas Adams.

My s-f reading is a bit haphazard, but this was the first vision of the post-human world in which not only humans but all biological life is extinct and special police patrol the borders in search of self-replicating pink goo (although Lem's Cyberiad is set in a robotic world, but a much more grotesque and surreal, an explicitly satirical one).

Freya Nakamachi-47 is a robot in a Solar System full of robots. It's a post-human world, still running on approximately human-designed principles, especially socially, despite the extinction of the Creator race several hundreds of years ago. Freya's raison d'etre, though, is somehow complicated, not to say, questionable, by the fact that she (and hundreds of her siblings) were designed and trained specifically for the purpose of providing sexual gratification: conditioned to become hopelessly aroused at the mere whiff of a scent of skin of a human male. She's passing time on Venus, doing menial or almost-menial work, just about maintaining her independent (i.e. not enslaved/indentured) status when an unpleasant incident with an aristocrat Domina and a hasty but thoughtless despatching of one of her minions put Freya in a desperate need of a quick way out. She takes a job as a courier for a mysterious Jeeves Co, but as usual, things are not as they appear.

As befits a more traditional sub-genre, the narration is straightforward: it's a first person tale directed to the reader, and there is a strong and exciting plot to drive the action. The characters are a tad flat, but not insufferably so (after all, it's a space opera and they are robots anyway, so one can't even get to annoyed with them for being the way they are). But it's the first-class, rather convincing world-building that was the main attraction for me. I really enjoyed the vision of post-human society created by robots (incidentally, robot is a dirty word in this world) whose minds' architecture mimics that of humans, but who were designed as servants and slaves for particular roles with built-in obedience reflexes, and whose only personhood is of the legal kind currently given to corporations, despite the fact that all natural persons are long extinct.

The sexual aspect of Freya's character and predicament was played well: it could have been a very easy (and very slippery) route to stuff reminiscent of fan fiction erotica, but there wasn't a hint of that: Freya being a sexbot was essential and not incidental to the construction of the whole novel. Some aspects of the ontology and, particularly, psychology of the world of Saturn's Children were rather stretched, but not as far as become annoyingly unconvincing.

A dose of humour, mostly in numerous cultural allusions adds a little bit of sophistication to the escapist pleasure as do philosophical reflections on freedom, genetic (or engineered) determinism, nature of love and sexual attraction (quite tongue in cheek, I think, and hope) and designed-in destiny. Every so often there appears a little concept, or even a one-liner, than had me (figuratively) squealing with delight: a holy scripture of evolution with Darwin and Dawkins and Gould as prophets, a Jeeves corporation devoted to facilitating, Bill and Ben munchkin helpers, the love friction of two robots named Kate (who is really a Juliette) and Petruchio, Bifrost the space bridge and many, many more. The title is such an allusion, as well, and if decoded correctly, will point to the power-behind-the-scene in the whole novel.

I have to say it did get a little bit tiresome towards the end, and I thought the explanation for the engine of the intrigue was distinctly feeble (but I have a personal foible against the prevalence of the trauma/abuse driven narratives in all kinds of current fiction), and for that I removed half a star from my rating.

Essentially though, Saturn's Children is a brilliant entertainment, undemanding enough to be a beach or a tube read. There are explanatory monologues in the tale, so the readers doesn't have to work out the mechanics of the world for themselves much, but they integrate into the plot somehow and are illuminating rather than annoying.

Recommended for all readers of s-f, and particularly space opera fans.

The review copy was sent to the Bookbag by the publisher - thank you!

If you like the sound of this, you might enjoy Neal Asher's techno space operas and Kevin Brooks explores the line between the human and the machine in Being.

Buy Saturn's Children by Charles Stross at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Saturn's Children by Charles Stross at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Saturn's Children by Charles Stross at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Saturn's Children by Charles Stross at Amazon.com.


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