Monday, December 28, 2009

Charles Stross - Saturn's Children

Sometimes I need to listen to people around me before reading books. I've liked much of Charles Stross' earlier work, as it pushes new boundaries in Science Fiction, deals with different concepts and updates some of the science behind the fiction. It is also often funny and entertaining, even if it doesn't have the most in depth characters and plots.

Saturn's Children is a break from this. It would be wrong to describe this as awful. It's far far worse than that. Take a look at the cover description;

"Freya Nakamachi-47 has some major existential issues. She's the perfect concubine, designed to please her human masters - hardwired to become aroused at the mere sight of a human male".

A friend pointed out to me that this was merely some sort of adolescent masturbation fantasy. "Oh no", I said, "Stross is far better than that. He likes to set up plot lines like this and play with the ideas and stereotypes".

The one original idea at the heart of this novel - that our "perfect concubine" is living in a universe were every human being has died out - is a good one. How would an automated society function with out humans in it? Sadly however it isn't an exciting enough idea to support the deep and meaningful questions that Stross would like. "What does it mean to be free?" is a meaningless question when the reader just doesn't care for the characters and is drowned in a seemingly endless series of inter-planetary trips that seem to simply to show that Stross understands the distances between planets.

Here in lies the real problem. The best ideas in the world are meaningless if the reader struggles to remember who is who amongst all the characters. The fact that they are all robots and most of them are identical models of other robots makes it even harder to follow.

The sad thing to note is, that Robert Heinlein did it all before. Apparently this novel is a "homage" to Heinlein, but where does homage end and pale imitation begin? Heinlein's novel Friday is about a robot super courier who can carry important items in a cavity within her abdomen. Unusually for Heinlein he didn't try and turn that novel into an adolescent masturbation fantasy. Sadly for Stross that's about all Saturn's Children has going for it.

Related Reviews

Stross - The Atrocity Archives
Stross - Iron Sunrise
Stross - Singularity Sky


Max Cairnduff said...

I had heard it wasn't his strongest by a long way, but ouch all the same.

I have a few Stross at home I haven't read yet, not this one, I doubt I'll be adding it to the pile.

Resolute Reader said...

Worth trying his other stuff. Though not this one.

If you;re interested in Stross, here's an interview I did with him for SR a few years back.