, by Charles Stross, the author, is not a book written with fans of Charles Stross, the man, in mind.Neptune's Brood
is the sequel to Saturn's Children
, but it's set thousands of years into the posthuman future, long since the nasty little tics left in robot consciousness by human beings have been suceesfully excised, leaving the robot descendents of Earth to conquer a sphere about 100 light years across.
In order to make his space opera universe "work," Stross has to cut so many corners that those who are familiar with what Stross is reading
can see immediately that this universe should have singularitied
itself long ago. It takes a massive, almost fantasy-level suspension of disbelief to accept that there have been no breakthroughs in posthuman consciousness in the thousands of years since Freya Nakamichi walked the surface of Mars. Stross does a lot of maneuvering around the legal rights of "humans" (really: posthumans) without ever dipping into the known literature regarding moral communities of differing capacity
. That's not the story he wants to tell, but it is the backdrop in which he's telling it.
All of which is to say that Neptune's Brood
is a pretty shallow space opera. It's entertaining-- as always, he has done his homework both with respect to the physics at hand and more importantly, with respect to the economics at hand. Neptune's Brood
is a science fiction novel where the primary science on display is economics: the story involves the biggest scam ever in the history of known space, and our heroine's efforts to track down the evidence and expose the guilty.
This is an Eganesque universe: FAL travel of information is possible, but material transport across interstellar distances is an economically devastating activity. Funding it requires a specialized economic system that only works at 1/3C: a sender, a receiver, and a third-party verifier. "Slow money" indeed.
There are bat-winged pirates who don't steal anything, and communist mermaids, zombie priests, and soulless assassins galore in this book. The set pieces are very set, and Stross's skill at creepy is here twisted into hilarious effect. Told in the first person, our heroine "guesses" at descriptive scene that didn't happen in her presence. There's a lot of info dumps, but she has to do that to help you understand the scam.
And there's one problem with Stross's story. Not his fault, the research came after the book had already hit the editor:
Stross's big reveal is that the "fake research project" actually managed to produce a useful FAL material transport method. Unfortunatly for Stross, recent research indicates that such a system would be computationally out of reach
. Well, maybe there's a trick. It's just the MacGuffin.
Still, like Saturn's Children
, it's a pretty good book. There is one section where our heroine, Krina, is pushed into following along a path set by others; it's the slowest part of the book, but Stross handles it fairly well. You can just see him cackling at some of the scenes.
If you want a taste of what this universe has in store, the short story Bit Rot
will get you there.
Tags: book, review