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Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
In the future of Charles Stross’ Saturn’s Children, humans have somehow managed to kill themselves off. But, before they did, they developed an array of artificial intelligence machines to serve them. Some were sent out to explore and settle the galaxy. The universe now contains all sorts of robots and cyborgs. They’ve set up a class-structured society with “aristo” robots owning those that humans had fitted with loyalty-inducing slave-chips. This strange new feudal society carries on with normal business, free from the oversight and lordship of humans.
Freya is one of these cyborgs. She was designed to be a “companion” (to put it nicely) for humans, so she is humanoid in appearance and exhibits most human emotions and motivations. She was spawned from a “mother” named Rhea and has numerous “sisters” whose “soul chips” can be downloaded and uploaded to new bodies. Freya used to be a slave, but her “family” has purchased her freedom.
As a femmebot, Freya was designed to fall in love with human men, but she has never met one because she was activated after they had all died out. In this new world, there is no one for her to love and serve. Now obsolete, she lives a lonely existence in a modified shipping container on Venus, eking out a living by doing odd jobs. At the beginning of the story, she manages to enrage another android and needs to leave Venus quickly, so she takes a job escorting a biological sample from Mercury to Mars. Freya doesn’t know what she’s protecting, but she soon discovers that there are many androids who want to get their hands on it. Many are worried that this specimen will overturn the android way of life and, somehow, Freya’s siblings and her crazy mother are also involved. Everyone seems to be chasing Freya.
The best part of Saturn’s Children is the post-human setting. Most post-apocalyptic stories imagine a universe devoid of intelligent life after we kill ourselves off, but Stross’ world is teeming. Freya leads us on a fascinating tour of this strange universe which includes slutty space capsules, museums featuring the skeletons of dinosaurs and homo sapiens side-by-side, the city of Cinnabar which perpetually rolls on rails around the equator of Mercury, a Martian memorial to the humans who could never manage to colonize the red planet, and a galaxy-wide butler service run by robots who all use the name “Jeeves.”
Also entertaining are a few philosophical discussions. The robots in this far future think of homo sapiens as their Creator and argue about whether robots evolved from mutation or were manufactured by their intelligent designers. Freya complains that followers of “the holy doctrine of Evolution” are dogmatic and close-minded, and this is very funny. Stross also explores the concepts of empathy, freedom and slavery, free will and determinism. Freya’s kind feel like they are not truly free because of the conditioning their creators instilled in them.
Saturn’s Children is a fun adventurous tour around a post-human galaxy. The pace rarely slows down for Freya, who’s in danger and on the run the entire time. Some parts of the plot go on too long and sometimes it’s hard to follow because Freya rarely understands what’s going on, whose side she’s on, and what she’s running from. The plot is constantly turning and twisting, which sometimes makes for a bewildering reading experience. In addition, the characters, being robots, are not easy to emphasize with, though I did find them more relatable than the characters in the companion novel, Neptune’s Brood.
Charles Stross has said that Saturn’s Children is a tribute to Robert A. Heinlein’s novel Friday. Look for additional nods to Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and John Scalzi. Saturn’s Children was nominated for the Hugo, Locus, and Prometheus Awards.
I listened to Bianca Amato narrate Recorded Books’ 14 hour long audio version of Saturn’s Children. She is simply wonderful. I love her lovely English accent, her tone, and her pace. I recommend this version of Saturn’s Children.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
I went into this thinking it was a sci-fi book. But it's more erotica than anything. And if you're not prepared for that, it will kill the story. I would tune out way too often because of the weird sex scenes and would then have lost some key moments that were plot related by the time I remembered to actively listen again. I was just too uncommitted (or disturbed) to rewind. I think they meant for "space opera" to be a clue as to the erotic nature....but I missed the point.
Underneath all the Rule 34/Japanese Manga bizarro-ness is a sci-fi story with a few good things. For example the idea of humans leaving robots that are still tied to human rules programmed into them. And a very realistic take on space travel. However, as I said, it's not always easy to follow.
So if you are looking to read this, I don't want to discourage you. Just know that it's 50 shades of gray for robots. That way you don't get lost in a barrage of "what the heck am I listening to moments" that make it difficult to get engaged with the plot. You may end up liking it way more with that in mind.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful