Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Saturn's Children, by Charles Stross

A post-human space opera riff on a rather notorious SF classic. Tribute or parody? You be the judge.

Saturn's Children

Ace Books, 2008, 336 pages

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.

I've seen a lot of reviews that focus on that boobilicious cover, like they just can't understand how this could have been published in 2008.

So let me spoil the secret for you: Saturn's Children is basically Charles Stross writing Heinlein fanfic.


It's not subtle, folks.

Freya (get it?) Nakamichi 47 was designed as a pleasure slave for her human creators. Unfortunately, the human race went extinct just before she was created, leaving Freya with, literally, no reason to live. In the post-human future postulated by Stross, humanity's self-aware creations have evolved into a distinct and autonomous "race" with its own evolving society, complete with rigid class hierarchies, oppression, and of course, conspiracies. The robots (a dirty word that is never used in polite society) have taken over the solar system and even gone out into the galaxy, but Freya begins the novel stuck on Venus, working tedious low-wage jobs that she and her "sisters" have eked out for centuries to remain free and unenslaved.

Then Freya runs afoul of an Aristo who tries to have her killed. After Freya thumps the Aristo's henchthug, she has to flee, and quickly accepts a dodgy courier job that takes her to Mercury. Here she signs up with a dodgy agency run by Jeeves, a "gentleman's gentleman" android who is another model doomed to obsolescence with the death of the human race.

Freya's adventures take her across the solar system, unwinding numerous conspiracies and being double-crossed at every turn. Also while screwing or being screwed by everything from her sentient acceleration couch (one of the funniest scenes in the book: "It's like being molested by a sleeping bag that speaks in Comic Sans with little love-hearts over the i's") to... well, pretty much every other android she spends any time alone with.

Stross was quite obviously writing a satirical tribute to Heinlein's problematic sexy classic, but Saturn's Children is very much its own novel. If my suspension of disbelief was stretched a bit by the very human behavior of all these androids (including their raging libidos), it was mollified by a very smart approach to AI and a post-human economy, reminding me a bit of an Alastair Reynolds novel but with more character. Or like Accelerando but more comprehensible (never mind that none of the characters in Saturn's Children are human).

Verdict: Entertaining, tongue-in-cheek sci-fi about a very sexy android that will amuse you more if you've read the Heinlein novel it's spoofing. Saturn's Children isn't truly brilliant, but it's a smart, fun space opera set in a post-human solar system.

Also by Charles Stross: My review of Accelerando.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, charles stross, reviews, science fiction

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