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REVIEW: Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross

REVIEW SUMMARY: Overall a book I enjoyed, but I’m not sure it’s for everybody.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Freya is contemplating ending it all. She’s an android built to pleasure humans, with no humans to pleasure. The species died out, but it’s creations still live, truly sentient but bound by the restrictions put in to ensure they stayed subservient. Before she can follow through, she gets caught up in the politics of the new robotic slavemasters and finds a reason to thrive.


PROS: Very interesting premise, ingenious plot, highly interesting characters.

CONS: Lots of robot sex, plot is sometimes hard to decipher, characters aren’t necessarily easy to empathize with.

BOTTOM LINE: Imaginative book with lots of plot twists, fun characters, and an intricate plot. I recommend it if you have an open mind, don’t mind android erotica, and want to read something pretty unique.

Wow, Stross sure took a risk with this book. I’m not sure he realized it when he wrote it, but there are some significant potential barriers to somebody enjoying this book. First, there is the sex – and there is plenty of it. It is done tastefully and is only occasionally gratuitous, but I can see that putting many people off. Second, you have a set of characters I found difficult to generate much empathy for. Stross goes out of his way to make sure you don’t forget these are mechanical and not biological life forms. And finally, the plot and its twists are sometimes hard to follow. It certainly could have been me (reading on a long plane flight back from Europe) but keeping track of all the players and all the factions was harder than I expected. There is a fine line between complex and confusing and sometimes Stross strays close to confusing.

The ideas here are very imaginative and the characters are deep. I especially appreciated how the Freya character changes throughout the book as she grows in her knowledge of the overall conspiracy and her personal views on the world change. I also thought Stross did a masterful job portraying how some of the supporting characters changed throughout their life as key moments were portrayed in flashback.

The plot is what kept me coming back to the book and despite its intricate nature it is fast-paced. Freya is pursued by assassins throughout much of the book and that implies lots of opportunities for action. Stross delivers, with both raw physical combat along with some more cerebral battles. But the larger conspiracy and the players involved – all seen through Freya’s limited view – is the real gem here. Stross made me highly interested in the motivations and goals of these intelligent creations who were in many ways still quite immature and stunted socially (for very specific reasons.)

I enjoyed the book and I very glad to have read it, but I’m also very aware that it might not be everybody’s cup of tea.

5 Comments on REVIEW: Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross

  1. People have to fear robot sex in their fiction? Really? Thank goodness for writers that push the envelope otherwise readers might be forced to read only “wholesome” fiction — like all the rest.

  2. I’ve enjoyed some of Stross’ other works, but really didn’t like this one. Biggest complaints:

    — It takes place in a Crapsack universe

    — Not a single remotely likeable character

    — The ending seemed pretty unsatisfying (it didn’t seem to resolve much of anything).

  3. Sounds like you are trying to hedge your bets by addressing the sex in the book as if it is a primary focus.  It’s not.  There is so much more to this book and readers shouldn’t be scared away by the triviality.  She was built as a sexbot.  It’s her nature, but it’s important to note that this novel explores that character’s search for purpose beyond that program.

    Stross continues to put down more fresh ideas per page than most any author writing in the genre.  It’s an interesting post-human world and definitely a space opera.  Everything I hoped for in the novel.  It’s just a shame that people tend to talk down about Saturn’s Children as if it doesn’t have anything to offer beyond the concept.  I think future readers will be kinder.

    There’s a nice moment in a museum where “biological humans” are viewed next to the dinosaurs as part of a past the robot people can only wonder about.  That moment grounds the novel and gives everything the focus it needs.

    The book definitely deserved to be in the Hugo short list.

  4. There’s no prudishness or overemphasis of the sex in this book by me, I assure all.  It is integral to the plot because of what this particular robot was built for.  It would certainly be remiss of me not to mention it.

    I didn’t indicate anybody should fear robot sex.  Did Stross take a risk by featuring it?  Yes, he did.  Did I dislike it or think it was bad?  No.  Might others?  Without question.

  5. After reading this review, I reckon I will stay well away from this one. I like robot sex as much as the next bloke, but I have to say my “Repugnance-Metre” just went off the scale.
    I guess I’m buying the new Banks novel instead 🙂


    PS: shocking cover art on this one. *Le lurch*

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