Review of Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross

April 26, 2010
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

RECORDED BOOKS - Saturn's Children by Charles StrossSaturn’s Children
By Charles Stross; Read by Bianca Amato
11 CDs – Approx. 13 Hours 45 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781440750113, 9781440750106
Themes: / Science Fiction / Androids / Robots / Sex / Slavery / Identity / Venus / Mars / Mercury / Eris /

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.

This novel’s title comes from the myth that Saturn (the Roman god of agriculture and harvest), ate his children at birth for fear of them usurping him. Its an apt starting point for a tale about robots More interesting is that Saturn’s Children opens with a reading of Asimov’s three laws of robotics

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

…and then informs us that there are no humans left alive. There is, however, a whole solar system full of robots, all willing and able to obey all three laws. So what happened to all those humans? The novel is the answer to that question.

Saturn’s Children is told from the point of view of Freya Nakamichi-47 a gynoid (that’s a female android). She was activated (born) long after the last human had died. Freya, despite never having met one, still longs for her lost love (any human). Indeed, even the mere thought a human being makes her sexually excited. This is because, as a self described grande horizontale, Freya’s destiny was to be a sexual companion to any human that owned her. Now, without a master, she finds work where and when she can. But after a nasty run-in with an Aristo, a wealthy robot that owns other robots (called Arbiters), Freya will take any work that gets her off planet. Soon she’s employed by Jeeves, a masculine android who is more like her in shape and purpose than most robots. Freya’s first assignment is to transport a bio-engineered package across the solar system. But the pink police (a kind of anti biological proliferation organization), and another, more shadowy, organization are determined to stop her. Along the way Freya visits Cinnabar (a city on rails) that’s perpetually in Mercury’s shadow, drawing power from the temperature difference between Mercury’s light and dark sides), has sex with a rocket ship and grows some new hair.

Freya does a whole lot more than that too. She has a lot more sex for one. But beyond the sex there is some more fully cerebral stimulation going on in Saturn’s Children. The idea of a post-human solar system is an interesting one, and Stross plays with it quite effectively. This is a theme that I think hasn’t been done often enough in SF. The closest novel, in scope, if not in tone, is perhaps Clifford D. Simak’s City (in which intelligent dogs and robots have inherited a humanless Earth). This humanless solar system is, as I mentioned, quite vividly explored, with floating cities (like Bespin’s Cloud City) on Venus, waste heated bio-labs on the frozen dwarf planet of Eris, and a truly frightening description of what’s happened to poor old Earth. Stross has quite a lot of fun playing with the world he’s created here, naming a city Heinleingrad, naming a robot butler character after P.G. Wodehouse’s famous “gentleman’s personal gentleman.” It all mostly works with Saturn’s Children seeming to take most of its inspiration though from Heinlein’s novel Friday. Both novels feature artificial female persons as secret couriers, both tell their own stories, both secrete their smuggled cargos in their abdomens. Later on in Saturn’s Children there is some playing with the ideas promulgated in Heinlein’s 1970 novel I Will Fear No Evil. And, identity, in a world where brain data, and brain states, are easily and quickly copyable, isn’t as simple as it is with us meatbags. On the whole I enjoyed Saturn’s Children and found it full of interestingness. It was as most novels are these days, too long, and in need of a critical editor. The worst sin here is that the ending is rather weak, and features an afterword that leaves open the possibility of a sequel or seven.

Narrator Bianca Amato, a South African accented “ALIEN OF EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY” (according to her resume), mispronounces a couple of the more obscure words but the general gist of her reading is highly competent. It helps a whole lot that Freya’s story is told in first person. I’m not sure what the present tense adds to the narrative other than being a little noticeable and not particularly harmful. Also, as I mentioned in a recent podcast, the Recorded Books cover art is boring, whereas the Ace Books paperbook edition is fabulous!

Check out the dust jacket from the paperbook edition:

Saturn's Children by Charles Stross - The PAPERBOOK's Dustjacket

Posted by Jesse Willis

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