Writing about Reading: Saturn’s Children

February 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

In a recent review of Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Fractal Prince, Paul di Filippo positioned the novel between the works of Greg Egan “and the cyberpunkishly dense Charles Stross.” Having just finished Saturn’s Children, the first book I’ve read by Stross, di Filippo’s assessment seems spot on.

Saturn’s Children is set in a far future where humans are extinct, leaving behind a solar system populated with intelligent robots—so intelligent, in fact, that they have stepped into the void left by their creators, warts and all. The story centers on Freya, a human-looking robot in a time when human-looking robots are out of style. Her kind is looked down upon by the rest of robotkind, which considers Freya and her siblings to be “ogres.” But Freya is just the type needed by the mysterious JeevesCo to take a package from Mercury to Mars. Unfortunately, there are those who want to make sure the package never arrives, and are willing to kill Freya to make sure of it.

While the story is intriguing, the world that Stross has set it in is even more so. There’s a lot of science and even more imagination packed into this book, along with a lot of unfamiliar lingo and some just downright bizarre concepts. It takes some getting used to, and at times it’s laid on a bit thick—hence why I feel “cyberpunkishly dense” is so appropriate. When you boil it down to the bones, however, it’s a sci-fi riff on The Maltese Falcon—which Stross hints at when he describes the package Freya has to carry to Mars:

The package I’m carrying needs to be activated twenty days before we arrive; until then, it’s concealed in a small cryostat in the base of a profoundly ugly black model of an extinct airborne replicator that preyed on other similar avioforms.

Wink wink, nudge nudge. Yes, there’s a fair bit of humor in the book, too.

Once you get used to the world Stross has created (it took me awhile), you begin to wonder just what the hell is going on. If you’re smarter than me, you may be able to figure it out; I was baffled right up to the end. But pleasantly so. It’s a real page-turner, and the author does a good job of leaving you wanting more at the end of each chapter. I’ll pick up the sequel, Neptune’s Brood, when it’s released later this year, although I can’t imagine where it will go.

But that’s part of the fun, right?

Dave Borcherding

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