Review of Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross

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

BBC7: Brian Aldiss Presents: Imposter by Philip K. Dick

SFFaudio Online Audio

BBC Radio 7 - BBC7BBC Radio 7 has just started a new 5 part series, a “new commission” called Brian Aldiss Presents. The idea is that for five weekends “the UK’s master of the genre” will personally select and introduce a Science Fiction short story for our listening pleasure.

Great idea sez me!

BBC iPlayerAldiss’ first selection is already theoretically available for listening over on the BBC website (using the BBC iPlayer):


Radio Downloader… is definitely subscribable via Radio Downloader






RadioArchive.cc…and will likely be showing up on RadioArchive.cc in mere moments.




And that selection is…

BBC Radio 7 - Brian Aldiss Presents - Imposter by Philip K. DickBrian Aldiss Presents – Imposter
By Philip K. Dick; Read by Peter Marinker
1 Broadcast – Approx. 15 Minutes [ABRIDGED?]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 7
Broadcast: Saturday September 19th, 2009 @ 6.30pm and 00.30am
Spence Olham is confronted by a colleague and accused of being an android impostor designed to sabotage Earth’s defences. The impostor’s ship was damaged and has crashed just outside the city. The android is supposed to detonate a planet destroying bomb on the utterance of a deadly code phrase. Olham must escape and prove his innocence, providing he is actually Spence Olham. First published in Astounding magazine’s June 1953 issue.

Update:
BBC iPlayer users can listen by clicking the “lower quality version.” This production has some sound effects/music.

Posted by Jesse Willis

LibriVox: The Island Of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

SFFaudio Online Audio

Science Fiction Audio Book - The Island Of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

Started back in August 2006, the latest Science Fiction classic from LibriVox.org is The Island Of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. As with many LibriVox titles this one was a multi-reader audiobook project.

Science Fiction Audio Book - The Island Of Dr. Moreau by H.G. WellsThe Island Of Dr. Moreau
By H.G. Wells; Read by various readers
1 Zipped Folder of MP3 Files – 4 Hours 38 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Completed: March 2nd 2007
The Island of Doctor Moreau is an 1896 science fiction novel written by H. G. Wells, addressing ideas of society and community, human nature and identity, religion, Darwinism, and eugenics.

When the novel was written in the late 19th century, England’s scientific community was engulfed by debates on animal vivisection. Interest groups were even formed to tackle the issue: the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection was formed two years after the publication of the novel. The novel is presented as a discovered manuscript, introduced by the narrator’s nephew; it then ‘transcribes’ the tale.

Review of Demo Mode by Tom Gerencer

Demo Mode
by Tom Gerencer; Read by Tom Gerencer
14 minutes, 31 seconds [UNABRIDGED]Publisher: Telltale Weekly
Published: April 2004
Themes: Science Fiction / Humor / Identity / Viruses /

In the future, knowledge will be grafted straight into our brains, no learning required! Just make sure they configure the innoculotron correctly, or you might wind up contracting Esperanto by mistake. First published in Science Fiction Age Magazine’s May 2000 issue, “Demo Mode” is a humourous short story about a schlub in the future who thinks a simple bit of viral-software will improve his personality. The plot is very similar to the NFB animated film “Personality Software.” Tom Gerencer’s reading is quick, perhaps too quick, but sound quality is great and his “rich and lilting yet somehow phoney sounding stereotypic Scottish accent” is absolutely spot on. Available online at www.telltaleweekly.com for only $.75 USD, “Demo Mode” is a good value and a good laugh!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Moon Moth [AUDIO DRAMA] adapted from the novella by Jack Vance

SFFaudio Review

The Moon MothSFFaudio EssentialThe Moon Moth
By Jack Vance; adapted by George Zarr
Performed by a Full Cast
Duration: 73 minutes 22 seconds
Available at: http://www.scifi.com/set/playhouse/moth/
Producer: Seeing Ear Theater
Themes: Science Fiction / Mystery / Aliens / Identity / Sociology /

A tone-deaf detective pursues a singing assassin through an opera of blood in this classic satirical thriller by Jack Vance. On the planet Sirene everyone wears a mask according to his status — or strahk — in society. Communication is accomplished through singing accompanied by a plethora of instruments, each of which signifies a different emotional mood or is used to talk to a different social caste. The problem is, the assassin Angmark is a master of Sirenese customs and — like everyone else on Sirene — his face is hidden behind a mask. Our doddering ambassador-detective’s only hope: to learn to use his own mask — the lowly Moon Moth — before Angmark relieves him of a head to put it on.

“The Moon Moth” is one of the best short science fiction stories tackling ideas of alternative social systems. Most stories of this type are found in full length novels like Robert Silverberg‘s A Time Of Changes or Ursula K. Le Guin‘s The Left Hand Of Darkness, but what is so delightful about this story is how densely packed with excellence it truly is. “The Moon Moth” is whimsical story with a truly original alien culture, the tale is part social commentary, part social satire and an absolutely terrific variation on the locked room mystery all packed successfully into 73 minutes of goodness! David Garrison and the rest of the Seeing Ear Theater cast are hilarious and effective but the real kudos has to go to George Zarr who so skillfully adapted Jack Vance‘s 1961 short story to the audio drama form. And unbeleivably, this play is still available for free on the internet! Very highly recommended!