saturns children

Book Review: Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross

To my mind Charles Stross is an extremely talented science fiction writer who incor­po­rates lots of big, bold ideas into his fiction. Some­times, though, I get the feeling the ideas have run away with the story. Saturn’s Chil­dren might be an example of that.

The notion of a world where humans have died out but the obedient robots they built are still main­taining society is a fasci­nating one and Stross explores what that might mean very effec­tively here. In this case we are dealing with forms of intel­li­gence patterned directly against the human brain which allows him to also hold up a dark and rather grue­some mirror on human behavior.

Basi­cally in this universe, we created a slave race who when they even­tu­ally became free imme­di­ately started enslaving each other. Harsh… but prob­ably accurate.

Our protag­o­nist and view­point char­acter is Freya Nakamichi-47, a  sex robot, who becomes embroiled in a solar system span­ning plot that could result in the re-enslavement of all androids. So she moves from the worlds oldest profes­sion to the world’s second oldest profes­sion, that of spy.

Saturn's Children
The road to stop­ping this plot though is a winding and twisty one as Stross takes the oppor­tu­nity to delve into what it would mean to have a “soul chip” and be able to plug in someone elses. Essen­tially the soul chip is the sum total of an android’s memo­ries. Now that opens up all sorts of areas for explo­ration including multiple iden­ti­ties and the notion of nature vs. nurture.

Not surpris­ingly perhaps given the setup, this is a fairly adult book. It is implied (though this could just be the coloring of our view­point char­acter) that most of these androids are designed to enjoy and moti­vated by sexual plea­sure. And given that Freya was specif­i­cally created to provide such plea­sure… well.

Some­where along the way between cross, double-cross, triple-cross, memory trans­plants and giant info-dumps to tell us how this universe actu­ally func­tions… the plot is stopped. Sort of. At least… for now? The reso­lu­tion is rather… unresolved.

This seems to be a bit of a trend with modern science fiction but I like there to be a point to the journey I’ve gone on. No, it’s not how real life works… but that’s partly why I read fiction.

It is a truly fasci­nating universe that Stross conjures up mind you and Freya herself is a complex and inter­esting char­acter. The others seem much more shallow, but then we don’t get to be in their heads. Freya’s tumul­tuous journey from one crisis to another certainly kept my atten­tion. But I found myself getting a bit frus­trated trying to keep up with who was really which person­ality and what group they were allied with and who they were just pretending to work with. It all just felt overly clever as though the ideas had become more impor­tant than the story.

If you’re a fan of classic science fiction you will appre­ciate the call outs to Asimov (three laws) and Hein­lein (my nipples went spung) but even there it does feel a bit like the author showing off.

Other Books By Charles Stross

What Did You Think?

  • Have you read Saturn’s Children?
  • What did you think of it.
  • What other books by Charles Stross do you recommend?
  • Who are your favorite science fiction authors?

Let me know in the comments below.

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