Saturn's Children by Charles Stross.Review by Andrea Johnson
Obviously an homage to the fiction of Robert Heinlein, Freya is tall, beautiful, can leap tall buildings, and is built to survive anything. She also obeys Asimov's laws of robotics, because yes, she's a robot. In it's last throes of existence, humanity designed and built all sorts of robots to do their work and their bidding, then died. But the robots continued building, mining, exploring, organizing – everything they were designed for. The solar system is populated by mining bots, smart hotels, intelligent interplanetary shuttles, and any other kind of artificially intelligent bot you can imagine. It's almost like being in a robot episode of Futurama, except I can't tell if I'm supposed to be laughing or not.
To put it bluntly, Freya is a sex bot, designed specifically to be the hottest most incredible experience to ever land in her human clients lap. Except there are no humans left, and what's a fem bot to do?
After being offered a job as a courier by JeevesCo (an army of butler robots), Freya finds her new employer can afford to send even her tall mass out to Mars and Jupiter. As Freya continues her odyssey through the solar system, she is exposed to the family secrets that enshroud her “sister” Juliette. With Juliette's soul chip in hand, Freya is able to relive moments of her live, and absorb her memories. Juliette was a courier with JeevesCo as well, but something went horribly wrong, and now Freya must continue her sister's mission.
As usual, Stross puts intelligent and imaginative details into his world of the future. For example, the rolling city of Cinnabar on Mercury is just brilliant, as it rolls around the planet on massive tracks to keep the city rolling between the frozen dark side and the molten hot side of the planet. Robots travel between the planets, but even they must obey the laws of physics, so over the years the bots designed other servant bots of smaller and smaller mass. Taller robots, like Freya and her kind, are usually ostracized because of their large mass and archaic design. It's amazing that a society populated by artificially intelligent robots could have just as much politics, beauracracy, warfare, and vicious gossip as our world. We created our servants in our image, and trained them well.
As a character driven novel, most of Saturn's Childen focuses on Freya infiltrating secret groups, and trying not to get killed along the way. Jeeves is of little help, so she's pretty much on her own. Sounds interesting, but let's face it – Stross's main character is a sex bot, so that's what she does. Finds someone to have to sex with (male, female, shuttle pod, you name it), and then she does it again. Here is where I'm not sure if I should be amused by the parody, or if this is meant as some kind of robot erotica. Nothing in this novel struck me as humorous, or erotic. Maybe it is a parody, maybe I am a prude. Watching a not so bright AI sexbox travel the solar system was not fun or entertaining for me.
I will say the end does get interesting, but not interesting enough to make up for the rest. Freya finally realizes what's going on, and wises up, somewhat.
Charles Stross is one of those authors that I never shut up about. Accelerando and Glasshouse are on my Top 10 Favorite Novels of all time list, which is why I was even more dissapointed and confused with his latest. What am I missing? Why would someone as talented and intelligent and Stross write this, if not as satire?
Andrea Johnson lives in beautiful southwestern Michigan with her husband, and spends as much time as possible reading and enjoying science fiction and other speculative fiction. She is an administrator and book reviewer at Worm's Sci Fi Haven and an official reviewer at Multiverse.