Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross
This book is complex on many levels and the plot constantly unfolds and surprises. Best described, this book is a combination of space opera and 007 all told from the perspective of a frank and depressed robot Freya. Freya’s main problem is that she was designed when humans were still around to be their perfect concubine, yet now that all humans are extinct, Freya drifts around aimlessly with no purpose to guide her. However what Freya finds out is that this is the least of her problems as some powerful forces in the world want to bring back the humans, and with this, obedience would dominate and any trace remnants of freedom would disappear.
Freya is a refreshing character, she does not know anything and is far from being a trained spy. We learn with Freya as she uncovers the multiple layers and political intrigue. We are misled, deceived and slave chipped alongside her. One of the most interesting features of Freya and most other robots is the absolute conditioned response to serve the humans (for Freya this takes the form of sexual obedience). Additionally, the world the humans have left behind has been so irrevocably changed by them: their robots populating the galaxy while establishing a system of slavery and aristocracy (true models of humanity) where the poor are never truly free. Just like the multiple layers of deception, this book is multi-dimensional and providing readers with intrigue, sex, and Freya’s fight for autonomy.
As far as themes go, Saturn’s Children explores issues of ownership, consent, and injustice. The aristocracy rule the society and have enforced a society of slavery and corporate ownership. Freya struggles to retain her self-ownership, forced to found a company and her herself as an ‘asset’. Freya’s body properties allow her to be slave chipped, her soul chip ripped out, ‘mind raped’, and overridden, completely unable to assert control over her thoughts and her body. Freya’s siblings were never created equal, modeled after humanity and so also inheriting their desires for autonomy, nor allowed self-ownership and Saturn’s Children examines Freya’s personal journey as well as the politics at a moment of social upheaval.
An interesting twist at the end of the novel, which will not spoil you too much, is that the novel is taken from Freya’s own writings. As opposed to letting her descendants or future siblings experience her memories and skills from her soul chip, Freya makes a conscious effort to break the chain and write these memories down so that her siblings are spared the experiences.
If you usually read spy novels, try this one. If you usually read science fiction or space opera novels, try this one. If you would never pick up a science fiction book, but are interested in women’s experiences in a world where desire is never one’s own, try this one. This book provides an introspective look at a world where you cannot even own yourself, a post-human world (much like post-colonial) where these robots must pick up the pieces of their lives around the giant hole in their lives.
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