Saturn's Children - Charles Stross

In the distant future, mankind has built robots to help it in all conceivable ways. The robots serve mankind, building a civilisation spanning the solar system, and hardly notice when the human beings die out.

The main messes are psychological and legal. Psychologically, the robots are intelligent, conscious beings who are programmed to obey masters which no longer exist. Legally, none of them are people. The nearest they get is running a shell company which owns themselves as property (the unlucky majority end up as slaves). Governments are deadlocked as all constitutions lack a quorum of any kind.

Enter Freya, a robot designed as, ahem, concubine for the species which died out the year before she came out of the packing foam. An unauspicious start, one might say. And from there, it's into a world of conspiracy and counter-conspiracy as the robots attempt to bring back the humans.

It's a great ideas novel. While the above makes it sound as light as Singularity Sky, there's a fair amount closer to Glasshouse, with the themes of ownership and slavery played out amongst a population designed to be enslaved. Having said that, there's still a lot of silly references, albeit a little more subtle than before (although a particular plot coupon was an avian central to a scheme, described by one character as the 'plot capon').

Where it falls down, though, is in the actual plot. Complicated twists are nice enough, but beyond a certain point they become confusing, and moreover difficult to resolve. The ending makes Halting State look tidy. Is he trying to copy Stephenson?!

Posted 2008-09-29.