The Hugo Award-winning author of numerous best-sellers, Charles Stross crafts tales that push the limits of the genre. In Saturn's Children, Freya is an obsolete android concubine in a society where humans haven't existed for hundreds of years. A rigid caste system keeps the Aristos, a vindictive group of humanoids, well in control of the lower, slave-chipped classes. So when Freya offends one particularly nasty Aristo, she's forced to take a dangerous courier job off-planet.
"Stross takes a plot device common to mystery novels and turns it into one of the most stylishly imaginative robot tales ever penned." (Booklist) "Good fun... Heinlein himself would've liked this." (San Diego Union-Tribune)
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Pleasent, Complicated Space Opera - Very Enjoyable
During the reading of this self-proclaimed ‘space opera,’ I admit to swinging from wondering why I was still listening to being enthralled. This novel is about robots that we humans create. Unfortunately for homo-sapiens, we die out and leave the robots in charge with human objectives and a streak of subservience. What ensues is a bizarre culture of slavery. Written in the first person by a female robot bot named Freya; the story twists and turns with multiple personalities, a complex plot, much intrigue and misdirection. It is definitely hard to keep it all straight sometimes as event sometimes move too fast and the point of view switches among personalities, so you’ll find yourself skipping back 30 seconds on occasion.
The narrator Bianca Amato did a very good job of handling all of the voice. Though she speaks with a bit of an English accent, she is pleasant and brisk with her narration.
This novel will appeal to a listener who is interested in rooting for all sides. You root for one thing, then another and another. By the time you finish you reassess they story and reflect. From this point of view, the novel make you think, think about a world humans created but are not manifest. I recommend this book – it is different than I thought it would be; but I am still happy I listened.
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.