Kindle-licious: Saturn's Children


Charles Stross wrote a fairly notorious article about the serious problems with stories about space colonization. Basically, the time scales are huge, space is not a nice place overall, Mother Earth notwithstanding, and human beings neither long-lived nor all that indestructible. Quite the contrary.

If you’re Charles Stross, how then would you go about writing Saturn’s Children, which has space travel and colonization without the conveniences of wormholes or alternate dimensions, without miraculous health cures or magical terraforming?

It’s easy and very neat at the same time. Robots have taken over and humans are all dead (along with the rest of the biosphere). And it’s interesting instead of an easy way out, because in Saturn’s Children, while the psychology of robots and the psychology of humans both share certain things, there is one distinct difference between them that drives the story. And it’s Asimov’s fault.

Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, very beneficent to humans, also means that around humans, these now-independent robots would become slaves. Indeed, the ratio of independently thinking persons versus the number of slave-chipped serfs is very small. And even if you’re independent, one mistake may lead to your own independence being shut off.

In a way, this is a very basic, biological motivator for them, if we twist the “bio” to refer to this new world of mechanical beings. And like basic biological motivators for us, politics inevitably becomes involved, making for an interesting exercise in what a robotic society might be like.

Independence is thus a very important issue to our protagonist Freya, even if she doesn’t want to believe that. She’s part of a “family” of mechanicals designed for pleasure, who all are slightly different copies of the original model, Rhea, hundreds of years since gone. At the start of the story, Freya is isolated and depressed, but from page one, things start getting serious very quickly, in a Blade Runner in Space kind of way. Her adventures take her through the solar system, from the inner orbits of Mars and Venus, to the extremes of Eris beyond Pluto. Freya deals with murderous dwarves, conniving older-modeled men, and the twisted scheming of a shadowy villain who plans to conquer the rest of civilization. She comes across many diverse persons, human-like and distinctly non-human; even ships and transport pods are people.

If you know your mythology, the novel’s title will haunt you again and again as you read. And even if you don’t, it’s still a very cool book.

My only criticism is that the denouement feels too quick, rough on the brakes. Which is sort of a Stross thing. But I still like the ending very much.