Being a review of Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross. Granted, my title is a little lurid, but so is the book, and I mean that in the nicest way.

My heart was won in the third chapter, in which Our Heroine, captured by the Bad Guys, is (get this) lashed down across the railway tracks to Meet Her Doom. Which I have to call damn stylish. OK, the track isn’t for trains, it’s for a mobile city that has to roll slowly around Mercury to stay in the shade. And the chapter’s title is Silent Movie.

Anyhow, said heroine is in fact a Robot Sex Slave and distinctly has the blues. Among other reasons, the humans whom she’s been designed to pleasure have all died out. In fact, so have pretty well all living things; Sol’s system is populated by various flavors of robot and android.

You’d think that a sex slave would thus be superfluous but no, these automata screw like bunnies. And in fact it’s plausible; the whole imagined-world of synthetic personalities sort of makes sense; even the part about the sex.

Plus, there’s gripping combat action and nifty rocket-ships trudging back and forth across the system, and Our Heroine is a really sympathetic and engaging character.

Gripes? · Yes, three. The full title is Saturn’s Children — A Space Opera, but at no time does any spaceship ram any other spaceship. Sheesh.

Second: There are perhaps too many characters; I had to step away from the book for a couple of evenings halfway through, and when I came back I really had trouble keeping track of Freya’s sibs on one hand and the Jeeveses on the others; in fact, I still can’t recall 100% how Reginald arrived on the scene.

Third, at the, um, er, climax of the novel, it is essential to the plot that Our Heroine, the female Sex Robot, put on a virtuosic exhibition of her profession in cooperation with Petruchio, the male Sex Robot. And Charlie Stross, after having set this scene up for like five pages, steps through his novelistic fourth wall to accuse us of voyeurism, and declines to provide details. Hey, it was his idea! Bad, bad author!

Buy/Don’t Buy · On top of being good fun, the book surmounts some pretty challenging problems in sci-fi authorship; that no-human-characters thing to start with, along with making a very distant future believable. I enjoyed it, and lots of others will too.



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From: cstar (Jan 21 2010, at 00:47)

Yes, a good read.

Anyhow Charles Stross's book lineup is nearly flawless. (nearly because the Merchant series is IMO running a bit long). But the space opera stuff and the Laundry books are really among the best.

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From: Drazen Dotlic (Jan 21 2010, at 01:08)

Ah, yes, "Saturn's Children". Read it recently. Couldn't agree more with your comments, including semi-negative about too many 'characters'.

In fact, 'thanks' to the weird policy publishers in the USA have, when buying ebooks for my Kindle 2, since I live in Europe, quite a few Sci-Fi books are unavailable. For some reason though Charles Stross' books are all availabe, so coupled with my recent shoulder surgery and a lot of free time I ended up reading almost all of his recents books.

Note that practically all of his books were Hugo finalists, which is a certain measure of quality.

I can confirm that critics got it right - the author is not only a good writer, but able to tread on different grounds. There's not much similarity in his books (except for sequels, of which are few) so things never get repetitive.

Highly recommended.

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From: Chris Swan (Jan 21 2010, at 01:45)

Tim,

I'm glad to see that you've given Charlie another chance after putting down Accelerando (which is still in my opinion his best work - you just need to ride the coaster past the gaining potential energy phase).

Saturn's Children has been sat on my shelf since Christmas, so I'm now spurred on to bring it to the front of the queue (as soon as I finish Cory's 'Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town', which is weird but somehow compelling - I'm hanging in there to the bitter end to find out what the fsck is going on).

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From: JulesLt (Jan 21 2010, at 09:34)

When I read the back I thought 'Isn't this similar to Heinlein's 'Friday' '??? It took me about a year to realise that was intentional (Freya/Friday) / the whole thing being a retake on classic Heinlein SF.

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From: John Hart (Jan 21 2010, at 11:50)

I tried to read the Merchant series but was turned off by Stross's wooden prose.

I think it was the second or third book in the series where he used the phrase "he/she pulled a face" five times in as many chapters. Lazy writing, and cemented my growing suspicion that his writing can't match his ideas.

The I found Iain M. Banks, and was happy.

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From: Daniel Lemire (Jan 21 2010, at 15:25)

I agree with this recommendation. I think that Stross is a great writer, especially for Computer geeks.

I wrote my own review some time ago of this novel, you may enjoy it:

http://www.daniel-lemire.com/blog/archives/2009/11/09/reading-recommendation-saturns-children-by-charles-stross/

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From: Eric Meyer (Jan 22 2010, at 08:57)

I really like Stross; his short stories are typically excellent, I thought "Iron Sunrise" was quite good, and I thoroughly adore "The Atrocity Archives". I wasn't thrilled with the latter's sequel, but I have high hopes for the next one in the series, due this year. "Saturn's Children" and "Halting State" are two I haven't managed to get to yet, but hope to soon.

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From: Tony Fisk (Jan 27 2010, at 03:36)

For some reason, Stross' novels aren't readily available in 'Oz (or maybe I occupy the wrong bookshops?) Anyway, I've read 'Iron Sunrise' (OK but not great), and then roared my ribs out with 'the Atrocity Archives' (Len Deighton meets Humphrey Appleby meets HP Lovecraft meets Dilbert) It sort of melded with my job situation at the time... only very slightly (no-one's cleared me for field use of a HOG-Mk3, even though there's plenty of pigeons around!)

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