Book Review: ‘Saturn’s Children’ by Charles Stross

Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross

Synopsis from the web: "Sometime in the twenty-third century, humanity went extinct-leaving only androids behind. Freya Nakamichi 47 is a femmebot, one of the last of her kind still functioning. With no humans left to pay for the pleasures she provides, she agrees to transport a mysterious package from Mercury to Mars. Unfortunately for Freya, she has just made herself a moving target for some very powerful, very determined humanoids who will stop at nothing to possess the contents of the package."

All in all a very good book. However, I’ve liked other things that Mr Stross has done way better than I liked this one. But then I went into this book with some misconceptions. I was under the expectations, based on something someone else wrote about it, likely in the promo literature from the Science Fiction Book Club that this was going to be Mr Stross writing like Heinlein meets Asimov. And it sort of is, but in a totally different way than I was expecting. I was expecting the sort of work from Heinlein’s work for the juvenile market, not his later post-Stranger in a Strange Land work.

Stross starts out with the quote of the three laws of robotics, but right from the start you get the sense that something has gone wrong… humans are no more, they died out quite a long time before the story begins. The solar system (and beyond) is filled with man’s robotic creations. They have full AI, and they are not limited to the looks of human kind. In fact, as we learn VERY early in the book, most of these persons (for they ARE all persons) are short, squat and better adapted for ‘life’ in the extremes of the solar system.

The book starts with our main character, Freya by primary name, feeling depressed and alone on Venus when she gets on the wrong side of an Aristo just from being in the wrong/right place at the wrong/right time. It then goes to Mercury, then Mars, and so on… Our main character goes through many changes along the way, both to her person and her mental being. It’s a character journey in many, many ways. And it is only when viewed from the perspective of someone that has completed the book can you really see how Stross DID manage to pay good homage to both Heinlein and to Asimov.

As with all of Stross’ works, it is well written. It’s just that he has done better works. I think it honestly held him back some to limit himself to the sort of story might have come out of a collaboration between the aforementioned Heinlein and Asimov. It’s very interesting to see what would happen with Asimov’s laws of robotics if the humankind that they are designed to protect where no longer a part of the equation. The character work is excellent, and the sexual content (which is limited and not explicit, and is part of why the book was not reflective of the Heinlein I expected) fits in very well with the nature of the main character’s construction and purpose of her model back when man still lived.

One of the things I like about Stross’ work is something that is very rarely seen these days, namely the stand alone novel. These days so many books are designed to at least operate as the starting point of a series. But most (as I haven’t read them all) of Stross’ work stand alone and don’t call for or lend themselves to sequels. Now, that’s not to say that they can’t have spiritual sequels, or conceptual ones. But usually his stories are self contained and you feel mostly happy with the ending without being tormented with trying to figure out where things will go next or what’s going to happen to this dangling plot line over here.

This novel is no exception, and the ending is fitting. It could easily have a sequel, but the real story has been told, and doesn’t need to be continued, as it served well to explore the concepts it was built apon and really does the job that Science Fiction is supposed to by telling a ‘What If?’ sort of story.

This was a good read. I recommend it, but don’t judge Mr Stross’ work by this one novel. Try some of his others to truly see the author doing what he does best: push the envelope of the concepts he selects.

This book is currently only available in hardback. The paperback is coming to the USA in June 2009 and the UK in July 2009.