Book Review: Saturn’s Children – Charles Stross

Saturn's Children - Charles Stross

Saturn's Children - Charles Stross

Set in a future when humanity is extinct, intelligent robots carry on the task of spreading civilisation, having colonised the solar system and sent ships to nearby stars. These are not soulless Asimovian robots as their minds are copies of archetypal personalities, created by conditioning using human experiences (some extremely unpleasant). This conditioning also inculcates basic emotions and needs: for example, robots can enjoy a drink or two (though not of alcohol) and can experience the pleasures of sex when they ‘link up’.

For control purposes, humans made serving them the deepest desire of a robot. Now humans are gone, ‘aristo’ robots use this servitude capacity to enslave other robots. Their greatest fear is of ‘pink goo’ – animal cells of any kind that could, in theory, be used to rebuild one of the lost human ‘Creators’. A human, could, simply by their presence, control any and all robots using their inbuilt servitude
routines.

The novel follows Freya, one of a defunct concubine archetype,
cloned from the original called Rhea, who gets involved in something illegal
that involves smuggling pink goo. Freya is given the ‘soul chip’ (memories) of
another of her archetype, Juliette, and starts to be influenced by Juliette’s
experiences. The abilities to swap soul chips (and thus identities) and to blank
parts of soul ships complicates the plot no end. Starting on Venus, the action
takes Freya to Mercury, then Mars, Callisto and finally to ‘Heinleingrad’, on
distant Eris, as aristo factions like the Black Talon, and robot archetypes,
especially one modelled on the Jeeves character, struggle over the ultimate
prize…

Ironies abound. Humans, as their creators, are like gods to
robots. Robot society is as venal and despotic as that of their creators. In
their restless journeying (space travel for robots is uncomfortable and slow but
usually not fatal) they are driven by the expansionist dreams of their creators,
as robots have no purpose of their own. Despite 50 years of AI research,
‘intelligent’ robots are still as much a figment of the imagination as warp
drive. While on the surface this novel is a romp built from retreaded components
from earlier writers, underneath it raises issues about self-hood, freedom and
the purpose of life, none of which robots really have.

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About peterschow

"the Schow must go on"
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