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.

About Eoghann Irving

Overly opinionated owner and author of You can get updated on his posts directly on the blog here or through the usual social networking suspects. What? You expected me to say something interesting here? That's what the blog posts are for. Eoghann has often wondered if people read these little bio things we have to fill out everywhere on the internet and, assuming they do, why?