Saturn's Children is a stand-alone novel by the Scottish writer Charles Stross. Charlie has, to date, 13 Novels, 2 Collections, and a substantial number of short stories and Novellas to his name. He's a Locus, Hugo, and Prometheus Awards winner, and has been nominated/shortlisted for numerous others.
Saturn's Children follows the adventures of Freya Nakamichi-47, a sex robot (sorry, Courtesan), who was instantiated 61 years after humanity died out. Talk about a sad and depressing outlook without any real meaning in life: “designed as companion for my One True Love (deceased)” she sighs at one point. But, whilst humanity has died out, its creatures and servants continue to explore the solar system and nearer extrasolar worlds, building places to live in, and prepare the ground for their masters. A new, stratified society has established itself – robotic PAs and similar instruments bought their own freedom, and are now Aristos, holding other robots (a very offensive word in this society) as slaves. And the things they get up to... it kinda reminded me of the old chestnut of “do you know what your pets get up to when you're not home”, except here it's rather “do you know what your robot servants get up to when you've gone extinct”, but I'm sure you get the idea.
It's mainly power games, attempts at re-creating a biosphere and humans (charmingly referred to as 'pink goo' due to the way our cells hold their own genome and can replicate). And sex, lots of sex. If you wanted to know about robot sex then you've come to the right place. To me, it became tiring at some point...
Besides this there are a lot of ruminations around the feasibility of intrasolar space travel, its downsides, the time it takes, and how it generally is a pain, even for robots:
“Of course, space travel isn't only about being stuffed into a claustrophobia-inducing cell, scared witless, trussed up in a restraint harness, and raped through ever orifice for years on end. Because, you know, if that was all there was to it, there'd a queue outside every travel agent.”
I rest my case.
The language employed, as you might already have gathered, is geeky, with lots of technical/scientific euphemism for common concepts (pink goo is a good example for this). It's quite funny for a while, but then, depending on how much of a language/technical geek you are, it becomes tiring and repetitive. Still, some bits had me laugh out loud with their inventiveness of language use and image painted: “It's like being molested by a sleeping bag that speaks in Comic Sans with little love-hearts over the 'i's”.
The story is mainly told in the 1st person, with, at least for parts of the book, parallel streams of Freya and memories she picks up from 'soul chips' of her deceased template siblings. Overall the story and setting, and especially the ending, struck me a somewhat sad. Here we have all these great robots building and maintaining structures, cities, transport links, spaceships, and colonization multi-generation starships – all because humanity told them to do so, and then vanished, never to use these wonders. The body is still going through the motions, but the animating spirit has moved on. And has, within limits, been replaced by something broken, deranged, and completely of our own making, of course (the robots were build in our image, and based on our brain structures).
And a morsel for those who care about such things: Charlie here re-visits the Heinlein brain-fart about nipples going 'spung' (from The Number of the Beast – no, don't bother). For me this will forever carry the memory of a slightly alcohol-fuelled Eastercon panel, with Iain M Banks stuffing the microphone down his shirt to record the noises his nipples make. You had to be there, I guess...
Overall? Not Charlie's most enjoyable or accessible work. A little bit weird, a little bit sad. And too much robot sex, for me.
More Charles Stross
Title: Saturn’s Children
Author: Charles Stross
Reviewer: Markus Thierstein
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher URL: http://www.orbitbooks.net
Publication Date: 2008
Review Date: 110729
Price: UKP 7.99
Topic: Space Opera
Topic: Robot Sex