Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Freyaverse #1

Saturn's Children

Rate this book
Following the extinction of humankind in the twenty-third century, leaving behind only androids, femmebot Freya Nakamichi 47 accepts a job to transport a mysterious package from Mercury to Mars, unaware that some extremely powerful and ruthless humanoids will stop at nothing to possess the package and its contents.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2008

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Charles Stross

169 books5,551 followers
Charles David George "Charlie" Stross is a writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. His works range from science fiction and Lovecraftian horror to fantasy.

Stross is sometimes regarded as being part of a new generation of British science fiction writers who specialise in hard science fiction and space opera. His contemporaries include Alastair Reynolds, Ken MacLeod, Liz Williams and Richard Morgan.

SF Encyclopedia: http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/...

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_...

Tor: http://us.macmillan.com/author/charle...

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,387 (18%)
4 stars
2,820 (36%)
3 stars
2,548 (33%)
2 stars
726 (9%)
1 star
190 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 612 reviews
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books348 followers
January 28, 2015
This book goes down a lot better if you realize that Charles Stross was taking the piss out of Heinlein. (I love that phrase, even if I'm not British.)

Specifically, it's a semi-satirical rewrite of Friday.

Friday is one of my most hated favorite Heinleins. It was a fantastic story with a cool character in an action-packed sci-fi universe, and it showcased everything about Heinlein that has him rather out of favor nowadays. Friday, the title character, was a genetically engineered artificial person who was a super-sexy super-spy who spent about half her time doing super-spy stuff and the other half providing fan service to sci-fi nerds who fantasize about a hot nubile young black belt in the art of sexyjutsu who wants to jump their pot-bellied middle-aged bods.

So, in Saturn's Children, Freya (get it?) Nakamichi is an android (or "robot" as she admits later) concubine. She becomes orgasmic at the thought of being in the presence of a human male. Her problem being that humans are extinct.

Stross is basically taking the Heinlein trope and giving it steroids with a rocket. Freya acts very much like Friday, complete with frequent moments of ditziness despite her superhuman intelligence and sexing anything that will hold still long enough. It does not feel as exploitative as Heinlein because you can tell Stross is doing it with a wink, but I wouldn't exactly call it subversive either. More like half-fanfic, half-parody.

Freya winds up working as a super-spy for a shadowy boss who sends her on errands around the solar system. In the post-human society built by their creations, robots have managed to recreate the worst aspects of human civilization: wealthy aristos lord it over slaves and the barely-free. But the prospect of a reborn "creator" - i.e., a real live human, whom every robot is hardwired to obey - threatens the entire civilization.

This was an entertaining space opera with a sexy adventuress who's a lot more entertaining if you realize the author was probably writing this a little bit tongue-in-cheek. There are conspiracies and double-crosses and triple-crosses, lots of humor, and a classic SF feel.

There is a sequel, Neptune's Brood, which takes place in the same universe but centuries later (and with different characters).
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,678 reviews5,255 followers
March 14, 2013
the ideas behind the theme What Makes a Slave a Slave are particularly interesting when considering how they are approached and transformed by the genre in which they appear. in fantasy and historical fiction, slavery is often depicted as a regular part of the environment, and if a central character is enslaved, it is merely an obstacle that is usually surmounted. in horror, the idea of a total loss of freedom, especially the loss of an individualized mind, becomes another facet of evil: possession, automation, etc. in erotica and PNR and the queasy Gor universe, enslavement can be a path to 'true freedom' and a comment on the fluidity of power and disempowerment.

regarding Saturn's Children: rarely have i read a breathless scifi space opera that seriously attempts to understand the mentality of a slave - and one that attempts to juggle all of those approaches to slavery. in the end, a moralistic and 'humanistic' stance is clearly taken (which i personally appreciated), but the journey to that end does not engage in puritanism or easy, knee-jerk generalizations.

despite the deep and intriguing theme, this is a light entertainment. lots of graphic and semi-graphic robot sex. overall an absorbing but not overly-elaborate post-human adventure.
Profile Image for Sandi.
510 reviews279 followers
November 13, 2010
Saturn's Children is a book that I've wanted to read but have avoided because of the really embarrassing cover. Let's face it, a middle-aged woman would really look silly reading a book with big-boobed bimbo on the cover. Fortunately, this is 2010 and I've acquired an e-reader that allows me to discretely read anything, no matter what the cover looks like.

Charles Stross has been a hit-or-miss author for me. Saturn's Children falls strongly into the "hit" category. It's a hard sci-fi, post-human action thriller. In other words, it has something for everyone. If you dig a little deeper, you can find some really good stuff to feed your higher intellect. It raises questions that it doesn't answer and doesn't need to. The answers are the reader's job.

Now, I do have to give a word of warning. Saturn's Children does contain a significant amount of kinky robot sex and is definitely not for children or those with delicate sensitivities.
Profile Image for Matt.
216 reviews656 followers
April 4, 2011
This review won't contain anything that I consider an actual spoiler, but because of the stories structure I'm going to mark this review out of an abundance of caution. I actually think the majority of readers will enjoy the novel slightly better with a bit more information about the setting going into it, but I'm not going to reveal anything that wouldn't have been revealed early in the story. The other advantage of a spoiler cloak on the review is that the subject matter discussed here is going to be unavoidably erotically tinged.

I've been a fan of Charles "the Slaad Father" Stross's work since long before he was doing anything that most readers would have identified as work. I read 'Singularity Sky' with great pleasure and have been looking forward to his science fiction works ever since, but none of the following ones that I read quite captured the giddy wild geek fun and inventiveness of that first novel or his HP Lovecraft inspired sci-fi until 'Saturn's Children'.

Charles setting is in many ways a radical departure from the setting of most of the rest of his science fiction in that it abandons the notion of an easily self-uplifting artificial intelligence or a generally tame nanotechnology. For me, this serves to enhance the believability of the story as one of the things I found off-putting in 'Singularity Sky' and 'Iron Sunrise' was the extent to which Stross bought into Kurweilian style techno-theology.

However, Stross doesn't really explain the technological basis of the setting until about page 60, by which time some confusion will have probably set in particularly given the sort of things which happen that are likely to throw off your suspension of disbelief or interest in the story. Once Stross begins to explain himself, the story gets measurably better. Briefly, Stross speculates the that problem of creating sophont class AI will prove so intractable and difficult, that humanity will take an obvious short cut to get there. The AI technology in the world of 'Saturn's Children' isn't designed from scratch, but is simply a copy in wires and transistors of the available prototype for sophont class AI - the human brain. As a result, the designers of the new AI neither fully understood it nor could fully control it and most importantly for the purposes of our story, the resulting AI carried with it much of the human emotional baggage and misadaptation. It's with this in mind that we must judge the apparently overly anthropomorphic denizens of Stross's creation. These particular robots, despite their non-biological bodies, have much more in common with the fleshy rutting androids of Silverberg’s 'Tower of Glass' or even PK Dick's 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep' than they do with the typical AI sci-fi tropes.

In some ways, this is refreshing, because I hate some of the traditional AI sci-fi tropes and have come to hate them more the more I study the problem of creating an actual Turing testable AI. In other ways though, this brings with it its own problems, many of which may strike the average reader as more bizarre and less believable than some of Stross's wilder flights of fancy, if only because the technology involved here is less distantly removed and the normal sci-fi tropes are so well engrained and established. (And I should note that Kurzweil has recently adopted the position that the first sophont AI's will be copies of human brains, so it's not clear that Stross has really abandoned that nonsense anyway.)

The protagonist of 'Saturn's Children', Freya, will probably be a bit jarring to a lot of readers, and titillating to others. She's a robot which has been designed to act as a female sexual companion. Specifically, she was originally designed to be the star of sexually explicit films inspired by Japanese animation, and we are made to gather that she has the 'big eyed' nymphet aesthetic with the ability to adjust her hair and skin color to suit whatever particular fetish is involved. There is actually a point to this particular selection of protagonist other than being a geek sexual fantasy. Freya has become obsolete. The function which she was designed to fulfill is no longer needed or even possible. Because, even before she was activated, humanity - overwhelmed by the technology it created and the unintended consequences thereof - became extinct. Only humanities offspring species, in the form of the numerous now abandoned sapient servants humanity had created remains of the family of man. Indeed, not only has man gone extinct, but the entirely biological support system mankind needs to survive has been destroyed in the wake of mankind’s extinction as the newly liberated robot civilization failed to anticipate or deal with the challenges of extreme climate change once it lost the direction of his human masters. The Earth is desolate. So, acutely - perhaps more than any other choice Stross could have made for a protagonist - Freya embodies the theme of the abandoned robot.

This theme is of course not new to 'Saturn's Children'. It comes up frequently in the works of Clifford Simak, Disch's 'Brave Little Toaster', and famously in short stories like Aldiss's 'Supertoys Last All Summer' and even in films like Pixar's latest offering 'Wall-E'. Some would reasonably argue that the theme goes all the way back to science fiction’s first true masterpiece, ‘Frankenstein’. But Stross is able to break some new ground here with robots which are at the same time in some ways both better able and less able to cope with the loss of their creators and masters.

Freya finds herself lonely and depressed, aching for the unobtainable companionship of a human master she’s been programmed to provide for and at the same time fearing the veritable slavery that would come along with having a master she would unconditionally (and admittedly happily and joyously) obey. To a lesser extent, this is the emotional plight the entire robotic civilization finds itself in, although for many it’s not nearly as acute as their designed functions can still be fulfilled. This is a strong idea and Stross does a good job holding your attention with it and keeping the story flowing. Unlike many books I’ve read recently, I didn’t struggle to get through this one. I think however Stross undermines his story somewhat by creating a civilization which is somewhat hyper-sexualized, even by comparison to the one created by their ‘monkey’ creators as apparently the AI designers found that human sexuality was too deeply rooted in their nature to completely subvert or remove. The result is a world where deeply inhuman creatures are driven by deeply human needs, bizarrely including sexual response to tactile sensory input and physical intimacy. I’m not sure how much this will bother the average reader (in fact I’m quite sure that it will sell books), but it bothered me repeatedly even more on an intellectual level than a moral one.

I think the biggest failure of the book – and the main reason I can’t give it 5 stars - is that it suffers from what I call in science-fiction ‘Star Trek syndrome’. ‘Star Trek syndrome’ is when the technological basis and limitations of the setting is so poorly defined and so unreflectively introduced, that the technology involved is indistinguishable from the more poorly realized sort of magic – not because it is sufficiently advanced – but because its limitations and capabilities are defined solely by the needs of the plot. What can the crew of the Enterprise do with ‘Star Trek’ technology? Anything that they need to do to resolve the crisis that they face in one hours time, but never enough that the crisis doesn’t develop in the first place or have an easy resolution. Further, the exact limitations and capabilities will vary according to the particular crisis at hand, and the solutions of the past will have no bearing on what they are able to do in the future and will be on the whole forgotten. Above all, the large social implications of the technology will generally never be considered seriously, and any social implication that the technology may have will arise unexpectedly and never last longer than a single episode. Stross’s robots seem to suffer these problems, and I never felt that they arose above being anything but the creations of Stross as needed to serve the plot. It’s bizarre to imagine that the human brain could be readily retooled to serve bodies of all sorts of different shapes, but that the particular limitations Stross places on how they emotionally or intellectually functioned were the result of some intractable design problem. At times, particularly near the end when one of the big ‘secrets’ is revealed, this becomes a serious plot hole.

The book had three other flaws. The first is that Freya is both the protagonist of the story and the narrator. There are a lot of things to be said in favor of a first person narrative, but in science fiction it must be applied very carefully because the very unfamiliarity of the setting causes the first person narrative to tend to unwelcome didacticism. Stross is evidently very aware of the problem, because midway into the story he lampshades it when the narrator jokes with the reader about how she must seem at times like a boring tour guide. Overall, I think this will be something most readers can overlook.

Unfortunately, here I run out of room given goodread's character limit. To finish the review, I'm going to employ the comments. So, skip down to the third comment below for closing thoughts.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,954 reviews1,293 followers
February 3, 2013
“Humans were dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatsoever about that.”

That is perhaps how Dickens might have begun Saturn’s Children, if Dickens had somehow conceived of a near-future world in which humanity is extinct but its human-like robot servitors have kept on going. Charles Stross isn’t quite so economical in explaining this underlying fact, but he’s almost there. Through references to “pink goo” and “green goo” and the lack of prokaryotes and eukaroytes on Earth, Stross manages to convey how screwed up the solar system has become. And while some readers might find the obliqueness of these explanations unsettling at first, I enjoyed how they truly put me in the role of the outsider.

In Saturn’s Children, Charles Stross demonstrates his versatile mind as he presents a different take on artificial intelligence and sidesteps the Singularity. In this universe, humans never quite manage to create a viable AI from scratch. They cheat by training AIs from models of human brains, conditioning them in realtime as one might educate a child. The result is lineages of AIs with desires and drives very similar to those of their human Creators. As the book opens, humans have been extinct for over a century, but the robotic civilization is still going strong throughout the solar system.

Reading this is kind of like experiencing a twisted Disney vision of the robot future—WALL-E meets Tripping the Rift. We open on Venus, thrown into a world dominated by machines and robots of all types and descriptions. There are no humans in sight—just heavyhanded references to “Creators”. Yet the robots are all acting very human-like; even the non-humanoid ones are curiously anthropomorphic. Ordinarily this would be a huge red flag, but thanks to Stross’ explanation, it makes sense. It allows him to create a very human mystery wrapped in the trappings of robotic senses, abilities, and time-scales.

Identity, and the effect of power relations on identity, are a major component to Saturn’s Children. The protagonist, Freya, is a sexbot who had the misfortune to roll off the production line long after humans died out. Unable to fulfil her original purpose, she subsists on odd jobs. Then, she takes a courier job that turns into a spy thriller—that is, she swallows the red pill.

Yes, robots have jobs. As Freya says, tongue-in-cheek, it’s a robot-eat-robot world. Energy is the ultimate commodity, because it takes energy to power robots and energy to escape the gravity wells of planets and travel throughout the solar system. Robots who can’t make ends meet end up having to sell themselves, becoming “slave-chipped” property of aristos, a robotic parody of an aristocratic class. Stross recreates a very human power dynamic in these inhuman beings, maintaining the economic pressures that lead people to make desperate decisions to avoid destitution.

Freya’s identity is far more fluid than any ordinary protagonist’s has a right to be. She is not exactly a unique person; she is a member of a lineage of robots all booted from an original personality template. She and her siblings can exchange soul chips, which allow them to relive each other’s experiences and gain new memories and abilities. As Freya wears the soul chip of her sib Juliette, who was mixed up in the same shady business Freya gets involved in, Freya finds herself becoming more like Juliette. A few different versions of Juliette surface throughout the story. Combined with the threat of being captured by her enemies and slave-chipped, the fragility and mutability of Freya’s identity, freedom, and autonomy are at the forefront of the story.

These are all a microcosm for the larger problem in this robot civilization, the major difference between the robots and their Creators. Robots lack the rebellious autonomy of the masters they emulate. Humans raised robots to be obedient, to serve. Now humanity is no more, but that subservience has never been removed from the robot psyche. It is a psychic wound that gnaws on the collective unconscious of robot society, fuelling strife that manifests in many interesting ways, such as some people’s attempts to resurrect humanity (and its associated biological ecosystem) and herald in a new age of Creator rule.

At times, Freya seems so close to being a passive player in this larger drama that I neared critical frustration. Everyone else is pulling her strings, and she always seems six steps behind, reacting instead of acting. Nevertheless, she manages to take proactive steps on occasion, and in the final act of the book she truly comes into her own and starts calling the shots. At least one reviewer has expressed reservations about Stross’ choice to use the first-person perspective. However, I can’t imagine this working with any other perspective; an unreliable narrator is necessary for him to pull off the kinds of twists he does. These twists underscore the complicated nature of identity for beings who can swap memories and are themselves the echoes of someone else’s mind.

Saturn’s Children is that perfect mix of science fiction, mystery, and spy thriller. It has all sorts of amazing, thought-provoking concepts; yet never does Stross lose sight of the story. Once or twice, the depth of the mystery becomes convoluted enough to confuse … but that’s a price worth paying for first-class writing and a compelling main character who, despite being inhuman, still grapples with the same existential issues we have—plus a few I’m glad we don’t.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Gavin.
886 reviews400 followers
November 12, 2014
I'm not sure what to say about this unusual sci-fi. I liked the story. It was full of great ideas, but I felt like it could have been so much more. The execution of the story was just a bit off.

The story follows Freya, an obsolete android concubine in a society where humans haven't existed for hundreds of years. She accepts a job as a courier an is soon caught up in a whole lot of intrigue. This read a lot like spy story set in a post-human future.

The story suffered a dull middle phase, but started and ended well.

I liked this well enough that I'll read more Charles Stross books in the future.

Rating: 3.5 stars.

Audio Note: This was narrated by Bianca Amato. She gave an excellent performance as our wry, grumpy sexbot Freya.

Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,685 reviews347 followers
November 9, 2020
I liked this one when I first read it, in 2008. I started a reread in 2016, but it wasn't holding up. DNF reread. Rating based on my first read, which I enjoyed a lot. Some books hold up to re-reading, some don't. Or I might not have been in the right mood.

The rest of this is purely meta.

Here are Stross's story notes, which are pretty entertaining:
CAUTION: you shouldn't read his notes unless/until you have read the novel. No serious spoilers (that I recall), but they won't make a lot of sense by themselves.

His idea was to write a tribute to Heinlein's FRIDAY:

"Heinlein in his dirty-old-man phase seemed to have a nipple obsession. Worse: an obsession with nipples which, as piloerectile tissue, made an implausible noise—"spung!" Thus, the word "spung!" becomes the centerpiece of any successful late-period Heinlein pastiche.

We in the reality-based community are aware that real human nipples do not do "spung". But under what circumstances might a nipple go "spung"? Well, if it was some sort of pressure-relief valve on a robot, that sound wouldn't be totally implausible.

Nipples ... on a robot. Why would a robot need nipples?
Why, indeed.

"Why did you pick such an awful cover?" (US edition) Hint: my editor at Ace is an old hand who worked on "Friday" at Del Rey and had something to do with the Michael Whelan cover."

Freya hangover: "there was no way I intended to go back and write about Freya ever again. She's one of the most annoying protagonists I ever came up with. Alternately chatty and whining, a vacuous underachiever, traumatic origins or not: it was a pleasure to push her out of my head when I finished that book."
Profile Image for Terence.
1,168 reviews394 followers
November 23, 2008
Charles Stross is one of the better hard SF writers around today, IMO. I couldn't get through his foray into fantasy, The Family Trade, but I've enjoyed his space operas, including this one.

In the near future, humanity (the Creators) has gone extinct but they've left behind autonomous machine intelligences that have created a civilization of their own. One that is, however, still constrained by the need to serve mankind hardwired into most android brains (the only AIs without restrictions beyond their basic instructions are the deep-space probes sent into trans-Plutonian space). The great fear/desire of this culture is the resurrection of the Creators and a return to the slavery of their origins.

There's a rather simplistic them of slavery vs. freedom that runs through the novel but it's muted and only rarely interferes with the reader's enjoyment of the story (I cringe at some of the throw-away lines about slavery's role in retarding social/technical progress). Like many a writer in the hard SF stable, Stross favors the anarcho-libertarian ethos of Robert Heinlein, and much of the novel is an homage to him and to Isaac Asimov. The robots obey a version of the Three Laws. And the plot follows that of Heinlein's Friday, from the use of rape to condition robots to obedience; to the presence of an all powerful mentor figure (two, actually, though the second is rather twisted); to out-of-control, secret cabals running the Solar System; to the ending, where the heroine leaves Earth behind for a new life on a colony world. (The cover of the edition I have, too, reminds me of Friday the more I look at it: A voluptuous female dressed in a skintight nylon suit, showing lots of cleavage. "I'm shocked, shocked that cheesy, sexist bookcovers still exist in this genre!")

There's also a backhanded tip of the hat to Heinlein - one of the Kuiper Belt colonies is called "Heinleingrad."

Analyzed like this a reader might get the impression that it's a "heavy" read but it doesn't have to be, and I didn't approach it as such. Forget Heinlein, forget Asimov, read it because Stross is a good writer, his post-human world is an interesting and humorous view of what the universe might be like without us, and Freya Nakamichi-47 is a likable and sympathetic companion for our visit.

A final caveat: Though there's no explicit "rape" scene, the theme of rape as a tool of power and submission crops up, particularly in the latter third of the book, and that may offend/disturb some readers, especially considering the "light" tone of the rest of the novel. It wasn't so prominent that it ruined the book for me but it was jarring.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,931 reviews438 followers
March 25, 2016
'Saturn's Children' is an extremely dizzy spiral of a tight convoluted noir plot within a maze of speculative hard-science and neuroscience. This complex science-fiction opera was written in homage to the robot worlds created by the authors Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, while also introducing graphic sex scenes only hinted at in earlier science-fiction novels.

Saturn is one of those gods who symbolizes quite a number of dueling concepts - all of them fit the author's meaning and purpose in writing this book:


Freya Nakamichi-47 is our heroine, a sentient sexbot who possesses many ghost personality identities within her mind due to an ability to swap in and out of her head and neck input slots 'sister' soul-chips, which come from 'dead' versions of her body-type of robot. 'Freya' is really a soul-chip designed for a specific type of body form, which when paired with her style of body equals a complete person. Her chip holds her individual memories and experiences, so she has her own personal developed personality, different from her sister line of bots, although by reviewing the soul-chips of her dead sisters, she can 'learn' and change.

The entire solar system is inhabited by robots of many different body types and forms, most of which are small and built to suit their tasks. Freya is 'Rhea' bot, so she has a human body type which is no longer popular nor is it being manufactured anymore. In fact, Freya was discovered dusty and unused in an old warehouse, although she has the memories of the original 'one' of her kind built centuries ago. Her brand was designed to satisfy sexual desires of humans, but in the current 23rd century, a human-body style robot is a liability, much less a robot designed as a sexbot for humans. She is considered a giant because of her height, so to travel about in spaceships, many human bots like her end up having their arms and legs removed to fit into spaceship cabins.

If you think the idea of our solar system being populated by sexbots is outlandish, even if they are obsolete and needing to find other work (they act as couriers or servants and entertainers) as imagined in this book, given the other more important things mechanical robots could be and are doing, click on the link below:


This is actually one of the more factual videos about sex robots and blow-up dolls on Youtube.com. Go ahead and search for 'sex dolls' on Youtube. I won't tell. Honest.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough these videos are for mature audiences!

Now that you are in the right frame of mind, I regret to inform you that in 'Saturn's Children' human beings, aka 'Creators', no longer exist. Flesh and blood homo sapiens somehow went extinct - exactly how is a bit confused at the time of the novel. This is revealed early, so this is not a spoiler. There are male and female human-body-style robot models, but they are considered a bit archaic, given that most are designed for functions no one now needs, such as sexbots and butlers for flesh-and-blood humans.

Robot is a dirty word in Freya's future because of the connotations of slavery. Freya lives in a high-tech universe of switchable bodies and brains, and designed purposes set by body model. But whatever the body model, every bot has in its root module a program of instructions familiar to readers of I, Robot.

From Wikipedia:

"The Three Laws of Robotics (often shortened to The Three Laws or Three Laws, also known as Asimov's Laws) are a set of rules devised by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov. The rules were introduced in his 1942 short story "Runaround", although they had been foreshadowed in a few earlier stories. The Three Laws, quoted as being from the "Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D.", are:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws."

These rules mean the sight and smell of a human would cause instant slavish obedience and love from every robot type - but there are no humans any more.

If humans DID still exist, the entire culture robots have made for themselves on Mars, Mercury, the moons of Venus and Jupiter, etc. would instantly end, their dominance finished. However, the world the robots HAVE conceived of and built mirrors the one humans would have built - to their horror and regret. But they have no way to stop or change their original core programming, which was modeled on the human brain as closely as the Creators could design them. So, much of robot culture is a tad sick and wrong, especially given their indestructible bodies, impervious to environments which would have killed humans, but they are slavishly devoted to following the political and hierarchical structures of Mankind, including aristocratic classes and slaved robots, based on a society where work for money and sustenance is essential for survival.

Freya no longer wants to live and she is contemplating suicide as the novel begins. However, she gets an email offering her a job which makes her curious. Assured by a sister bot it is on the level, she checks it out. Jeeves, her new boss and a humanoid bot originally designed to be a butler, turns out to be running some sort of a courier business, which has become swept up in politics, and even perhaps spying. Freya is too desperate and too subservient sexbot to ask many questions, even after it becomes obvious someone has paid for assassins to kill her....

Is it possible she is unknowingly transporting pink goo or green goo (animal or plant biological DNA from ancient earth), illegal everywhere in the solar system, in the secret compartment that Jeeves had built in her belly? Could this be the key behind the sudden interest and offers and attacks behind the rapidly multiplying plots of various aristocrat bots and their slave-chipped goons? Can she get through these increasingly horrible adventures without losing her valuable autonomy, a freedom only 10% of existing robots possess?

'Saturn's Children' is a novel of many ideas first - the story is secondary to the play of 'what if' science-and-culture possibilities. There are lots of fascinating fictional extrapolations based on current science research, and the progression of Asimov's Three Rules into ultimate slavery for sentient robots is shown with a Realpolitik clarity.

This novel has a lot of robot sex, voluntary and not so voluntary, so it gets an 'R' rating from me. It also is quite scientifically dense, and the plot involves an extreme confusion of interchangeable identities among the characters - if you, gentle reader, do not like uncertain narrators, noir mysteries, or multiples of similar-named antagonists, this science-fiction genre book will result in an unhappy week of down-time reading. However, I liked it a lot.
Profile Image for C.S. Daley.
Author 5 books66 followers
March 26, 2009
I am always all over the place with Stross. He is a gifted writer and can really put a story together but sometimes his books just don't knock me out.

This book was good but I admit that I was expecting more and it wasn't nearly as clever as I think it was suppose to be. I will continue to read Stross but I have a feeling he is going to always be one of those writers that just completely wows me or is just all right.
Profile Image for Cathy .
1,944 reviews52 followers
June 11, 2009
I was excited when I picked this up from the library. It is subtitled, "A Space Opera," and dedicated to Heinlein and Asimov, then opens with the 3 laws. I figured it had to be good. Then I read the reviews and was less hopeful. But in the end, it was a good, solid 3. Nothing wrong with that. The whole book is patterned off of Heinlein's Friday meets Asimov's Robots, moderately successfully. A robot (a dirty word to them) designed to be a female sex slave gets into all sorts of adventures and troubles at a time in our future where humans have somehow completely died out and left the machines to run things independently.

It was slow for me getting into it and some of the adventures felt random. But after a while I could see that they were building to something similar to but not equal to Friday's big surprise. What I liked best about the book was the foundational concept of seeing what kind of society machines would create without their Creators there anymore. These robots were closely patterned on people, as that was the only way to make them intelligent. The hardware was different, but the mental pathways the same. But they had been complete slaves to humanity via their programming, until humanity began to dwindle. Then certain close companions or secretaries were given powers of attorney or proxies, and therefore a chance to have power over other machines. And because they so resembled us, many of them wanted power and control, too. Therefore, a society evolved that had aristocrats and workers and slaves, and interactions very similar to ours. Their big debate was still Evolution vs. Creation, but the meaning of those things changed. Evolution is a religious movement.

Anyway, I liked the concepts better than the story, but I liked both. I did not like his overly frequent use of unusual words, it just distracted from the story. Sure, it's nice to establish that future feel and robot society, but it was just too too much. It wasn't quite the tribute to the Masters that the author hoped for, in my opinion, but it was enjoyable, occasionally thoughtful, and a moderately good adventure.
Profile Image for Wealhtheow.
2,448 reviews548 followers
June 18, 2015
Humanity died out centuries ago, but they left behind space stations, wrecked eco systems...and the computer systems and robots they created to serve them. Over time these AIs created societies of their own, but not from scratch--even now the innate loyalty toward biologicals, values, and hierarchies that humanity programmed into their servants remain and inform modern AI society. Freya is one of these AIs, kept at the bottom of the heap by her pleasurebot design. She was built to please a long dead race, and now is too tall, too small-eyed, and too naturally submissive to be accepted in the higher echelons. Freya is about to commit suicide when events conspire to convince her to take a dangerous mission instead: to transport something biological to a new planet.

The premise of this book is really cool and could excite a great deal of thought, but Freya is such a non-entity, and the writing is so pedestrian, and the plot pays homage to an author I despise (specifically, Heinlein's Friday, which decided me once and for all that I didn't have time in my life to read sf that made me feel less than because of my gender)...I just wasn't engaged by this book, and so I gave it up about halfway through.
Profile Image for Kelly.
274 reviews181 followers
September 28, 2014
I loved this book.

I sometimes have a hard time reading Charles Stross. I enjoy his concepts but I don’t often feel empathy for his characters. I adored Freya, however, her voice sang loudly and clearly to me and her personality leapt from the page.

As always, the writing is superb, but in this case, even more so. As all of the characters in Saturn’s Children are constructs of a sort, artificial beings, his writing and his style were particularly relevant. He managed to convert chemical and mechanical processes into perfect emulations of human function and emotion and it was so cleverly done. And some of the sequences in this book are about the funniest things I have ever read.

Highly recommended to fans of Charles Stross and, if you’ve never read him before, Saturn’s Children would be a good place to start.
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 24 books1,328 followers
July 24, 2009
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography (cclapcenter.com). I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

Oh, Charles Stross, how crazy you drive me sometimes! And that's because, as long-time readers know, I have a real back-and-forth relationship with the work of this multiple-award-winning science-fiction veteran, coiner of the very phrase "Accelerated Age" that critics like me now use as a general term for all post-9/11 SF -- because in my opinion, whenever Stross takes on a far-future tale (like he did in, say, 2006's Glasshouse, reviewed here in the past), he is a near-perfect master, turning in stunning fever-dream narratives that far surpass his peers in terms of flabbergastingly unique visions, part of why he's one of the most respected SF authors in the entire industry right now among his fellow industry professionals; but when he takes on "day after tomorrow" tales, though (like he did with 2007's MMO thriller Halting State, also reviewed here in the past), the results are a freaking disaster, ultra-cheesy "CyberThis CyberThat" twaddle already outdated even when first coming out, destined for the remainder bin mere months later and then ironic enjoyment by snotty hipsters for years after that.

I just finished his latest, in fact, Saturn's Children, a nominee for this year's coming Hugo Award (being awarded in Montreal in just two weeks from when I'm writing this, in a year I considered weak for SF*, which is why I didn't bother reading all the nominees this time like I did last year); and the immediate good news, I'm happy to report, is that it's indeed another far-future tale, and indeed just as mindblowing as the others. It is in fact a "space opera," as declared by Stross himself right in the book's subtitle, which he means in the classic, traditional way -- a sprawling epic that relies on massive spaceships and hard-science concepts to take us on a grand tour of the entire now-settled solar system -- and there's a very good reason that he dedicates it to the memories of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. It's a dense book, be warned, one that not only assumes that you already know a fair amount of general science, but that is deliberately designed in the second half to be extra-confusing (but more on that in a bit); but if you can make it through the whole thing, you will be richly rewarded for it, with this "intellectual-friendly action thriller" having an untold amount of smart things to say about humanity, artificial humanity, the sociology of sociopaths, the meaning of "civilization," and a lot more.

Because for those who don't know, the reason this is half-dedicated to Asimov is because it's a novel all about robots, robots who fundamentally operate under Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics," essentially making Saturn's Children an unauthorized sequel to Asimov's classic "Robot Series" of novels and stories he authored from the 1950s through '90s (and why Ace Books doesn't make more of this on the cover and sleeves** is beyond me -- it came as a complete surprise only after I started reading it). In fact, this is a novel about robots that takes place hundreds of years after humanity has gone extinct, from a cause that Stross lets remain a mystery throughout; because as anyone who's familiar with Asimov's old work knows, as part of this A.I. psychological conditioning known as the Three Laws ("Don't harm humans; don't let a human be harmed through inaction; protect yourself only when it doesn't interfere with the first two laws"), robots can't even contemplate the violent deaths of humans, much less investigate the causes, without getting so freaked out that they nearly shut down. Let's not forget that when Asimov first came up with this concept (smack-dab in the middle of Mid-Century Modernism), robots were envisioned by the general population as essentially smart toasters, so of course it would make sense to "bake" an unshakeable moral code into these artificial ("positronic") brains, so that the robots don't get all uppity one day and decide to try to enslave the human race.

But in our contemporary "pre-Singularity" times, when the mechanical and biological are starting to combine in the kinds of ultra-sophisticated ways that people in the 1950s couldn't even imagine, what seemed to them like benevolent rules to keep smart machines under control can start looking awfully like virtual slavery*** among autonomous biomecha "people;" and in fact Stross makes this concept the main underlying truism of his entire novel, envisioning an interplanetary society of billions of such creatures, all of them designed to serve their all-powerful Creators, then pondering what might happen to such a society if all the Creators suddenly died. For example, under the rules of Asimov's universe, nearly all robots are legally required to be "owned" by a human, whether or not humans technically actually exist anymore; but since in the eyes of the law corporations are considered "people," this becomes the elaborate workaround for this A.I. society, with all independent creatures essentially being the owners of one-person companies, that company's sole purpose being to own that creature, but with that company still liable to bankruptcy and hostile takeovers and all the other elements of human corporate law.

And why don't the robots just change the now-outdated human laws? Well, that's part of the problem of Asmiov's Three Laws being cooked into their brains, Stross shrewdly shows, that they're not authorized to change any of old humanity's existing long-term plans or bureaucratic infrastructures, instead charged with the continual creation of yet more new far-off colonies that no human will ever eventually sail to and live in; in fact, this is another element of the story that Stross makes great use of, showing us an uber-Kafkaesque society that has simply been chugging along with the status quo for centuries now, because of none of them being authorized to change the underlying structure of how the society works. But then playing again off of one of Asimov's most famous robot stories (the one Chris Columbus turned into the truly awful movie Bicentennial Man), about ten percent of these robots managed to convince their owners during the downfall of humanity to declare them legally autonomous sentient creatures (i.e. a "person" in the eyes of the law), with it being no coincidence that they were mostly the old butlers, maids and personal assistants of the rich, designed to look remarkably like humans so to blend into human society; it's these creatures who make up the robot aristocracy of this post-human world, creatures so hell-bent on maintaining power that they have turned humanity itself into something to be feared and scorned, with the new standard physical body shape in their post-human world for example not being humanoid at all, but rather three-foot-tall giant-eyed porcelain-covered anime types, and even with the word 'robot' itself now the kind of profound insult that, say, the N-word is in today's society.

It turns out in fact that Stross, just like Asimov, understands the true point of writing an entire novel about robots, in what could've otherwise been a pretty flat potboiler -- namely, to comment on humanity itself, to examine what specifically it is that makes us human, that simply can't be replicated in an artificial form. Because it's a side-effect of this situation I'm describing that turns into the main conflict of Saturn's Children, and what fuels most of the developments of its highly inventive plotline (which I will let remain mostly a surprise today, so don't worry about any spoilers unexpectedly popping up); that without the empathy that naturally comes with being human, this moneyed elite of artificial people quite quickly become cruel slave-owners themselves without even blinking an eye, turning their entire galaxy-wide society into one where 90 percent of the citizens joylessly toil until death for the pampered pleasure of the remaining ten. And then like I said, without giving too much away, we essentially get to explore this interplanetary society through the eyes of former prostitute Freya Nakamichi-47, now considered a gargantuan freak because of her uncanny similarity to a full-sized human supermodel babe, as she transforms over an extremely tight 300 pages from slacker musician to hired spy and maybe-assassin, getting caught up more and more in a grand conspiracy involving the highly illegal black-market manufacture of "pink goo" and "green goo" (animal and plant biological material, respectively), a good old-fashioned shoot-em-up noir that takes us all the way from Mercury to the brown dwarfs beyond Pluto, and nearly every planet in between.

It's this aspect, in fact, that allows Stross to rightly claim this as a space opera, and is where the Heinlein part of his dual dedication comes in; because make no mistake, Saturn's Children is vast and grand and epic in its scope, and in usual Strossian fashion offers up a whole series of cutting-edge hard-science concepts that'll make your head spin: from personal coffin-like gel-filled spaceships that are essentially flung to a planet's surface from orbit by a giant slingshot to a waiting maglev "net," to the sentient, deep-voiced, lone-wolf cargo craft who shuttle these one-robot capsules back and forth across the universe, using massive solar plasma sails for one half of the journey (the "downriver" half, flying away from the sun) and a nuclear fission reactor for the "upriver" trip back. This is one of the things Stross is most known for, another reason he's so admired among his fellow writers, and here he definitely does not disappoint; just his description alone of the frontier society among "hillbilly robots" that exists beyond Saturn is worth the purchase price, much less the dozens and dozens of other scientific/sociological concepts he slips in as well.

Now, all that said, there are things about this book that are sure to really bother some readers; as mentioned, for example, Stross deliberately adds a highly confusing element to the second half, with Freya ending up wearing for too long the "soul chip" of her "sister" Juliette (too complicated to fully explain here -- imagine being able to record all your experiences and emotions on a disc that can be easily swapped between robots of a similar make, but with Stross handling the details with a lot more nuance), to the point where it becomes difficult to even tell anymore whether it's Freya or Juliette narrating any particular section, a crucial element of the surprise-filled third act but that will drive some people crazy anyway. (And be warned, by the way, that Stross uses the concept of violent robot sex as a plot device so often that it'll make some readers [particularly females:] uncomfortable, and especially the final character reveal about Freya which is surprisingly disturbing for a science-fiction action thriller.) But all that being true, please note that Saturn's Children is receiving a score in the 9s today, a rare event for a genre book here which means in my opinion that it transcends its usual genre limitations; or in other words, if you're the kind of person who only reads one or two SF novels a year, I'm confident in my belief that this should be one of them, a story that examines universal issues of humanity in such a smart way that you literally don't have to be a genre fan to deeply enjoy it. As you can tell, it comes highly recommended today for everyone out there.

Out of 10: 9.6

*That said, I have also already reviewed here another of this year's Hugo nominees, Neal Stephenson's astounding Anathem; it's just that I have almost no interest in the other three nominees. I mean, for f-ck's sake, two of them are young-adult novels; and if you've got multiple children's books being nominated for what's considered the most important award in adult science-fiction, to me that's proof that it was a bad year for adult science-fiction. But maybe that's just me.

**And speaking of baffling details about this book's cover, a little question for the design staff over there at Ace Books: Seriously, are you trying to make me too embarrassed to buy your freaking books? I mean, Cheez-Its, do you understand that I had to literally wrap a plain paper cover around my library copy of this novel (and really, I actually did this), because as a big-city middle-aged intellectual I was ashamed of all the looks I was getting from others while out at cafes and on the bus with it? For all the hundreds of arresting mental images that can be found within the pages of this book, it is just beyond my f-cking understanding how what got chosen for the cover of the US hardback edition was instead some cheesy CGI/airbrushed picture of a horny 16-year-old boy's Second Life avatar. It makes me want to scream at the people responsible for it, about how they're literally driving away thousands of people who would otherwise probably love this highly sophisticated, very adult novel, and how this is just one of a thousand tiny details that has the mainstream publishing industry in the toilet these days.

***And by the way, it's not just Stross who makes great use of these kinds of issues within robot stories; Asimov himself was known for tackling all kinds of thorny sociological topics within his original tales, almost half a century ago now. If you're a SF fan and have never done so before, you really owe it to yourself to go back and at least sample the prodigious collection of stories and books Asimov put out under this series, throughout the second half of the 20th century; there are worse ways to start, for example, than with the story collection I, Robot (and again, skip the movie version), plus the robot detective novel that started it all, The Caves of Steel.
Profile Image for Kat  Hooper.
1,584 reviews404 followers
March 20, 2015
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.

In the future of Charles Stross’ Saturn’s Children, humans have somehow managed to kill themselves off. But, before they did, they developed an array of artificial intelligence machines to serve them. Some were sent out to explore and settle the galaxy. The universe now contains all sorts of robots and cyborgs. They’ve set up a class-structured society with “aristo” robots owning those that humans had fitted with loyalty-inducing slave-chips. This strange new feudal society carries on with normal business, free from the oversight and lordship of humans.

Freya is one of these cyborgs. She was designed to be a “companion” (to put it nicely) for humans, so she is humanoid in appearance and exhibits most human emotions and motivations. She was spawned from a “mother” named Rhea and has numerous “sisters” whose “soul chips” can be downloaded and uploaded to new bodies. Freya used to be a slave, but her “family” has purchased her freedom.

As a femmebot, Freya was designed to fall in love with human men, but she has never met one because she was activated after they had all died out. In this new world, there is no one for her to love and serve. Now obsolete, she lives a lonely existence in a modified shipping container on Venus, eking out a living by doing odd jobs. At the beginning of the story, she manages to enrage another android and needs to leave Venus quickly, so she takes a job escorting a biological sample from Mercury to Mars. Freya doesn’t know what she’s protecting, but she soon discovers that there are many androids who want to get their hands on it. Many are worried that this specimen will overturn the android way of life and, somehow, Freya’s siblings and her crazy mother are also involved. Everyone seems to be chasing Freya.

The best part of Saturn’s Children is the post-human setting. Most post-apocalyptic stories imagine a universe devoid of intelligent life after we kill ourselves off, but Stross’ world is teeming. Freya leads us on a fascinating tour of this strange universe which includes slutty space capsules, museums featuring the skeletons of dinosaurs and homo sapiens side-by-side, the city of Cinnabar which perpetually rolls on rails around the equator of Mercury, a Martian memorial to the humans who could never manage to colonize the red planet, and a galaxy-wide butler service run by robots who all use the name “Jeeves.”

Also entertaining are a few philosophical discussions. The robots in this far future think of homo sapiens as their Creator and argue about whether robots evolved from mutation or were manufactured by their intelligent designers. Freya complains that followers of “the holy doctrine of Evolution” are dogmatic and close-minded, and this is very funny. Stross also explores the concepts of empathy, freedom and slavery, free will and determinism. Freya’s kind feel like they are not truly free because of the conditioning their creators instilled in them.

Saturn’s Children is a fun adventurous tour around a post-human galaxy. The pace rarely slows down for Freya, who’s in danger and on the run the entire time. Some parts of the plot go on too long and sometimes it’s hard to follow because Freya rarely understands what’s going on, whose side she’s on, and what she’s running from. The plot is constantly turning and twisting, which sometimes makes for a bewildering reading experience. In addition, the characters, being robots, are not easy to emphasize with, though I did find them more relatable than the characters in the companion novel, Neptune’s Brood.

Charles Stross has said that Saturn’s Children is a tribute to Robert A. Heinlein’s novel Friday. Look for additional nods to Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and John Scalzi. Saturn’s Children was nominated for the Hugo, Locus, and Prometheus Awards.

I listened to Bianca Amato narrate Recorded Books’ 14 hour long audio version of Saturn’s Children. She is simply wonderful. I love her lovely English accent, her tone, and her pace. I recommend this version of Saturn’s Children.
Profile Image for Denise.
364 reviews33 followers
July 8, 2018
4 stars for laughs re explanations of human bodily functions in terms of chemicals. And commentary on the complicated influence of pheromones on interactions and hierarchies. But 3 stars for totally convoluted story.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
80 reviews11 followers
January 8, 2009
So, I'm told this is a tribute/parody/something to the old Heinlein and Asimov space operas. I can see it -- I read a lot of Heinlein as a teen, including some stuff that my parents probably didn't know about. It is a little less problematic* than some of the old Heinlein, though, despite the former profession of the character. Seriously, you can feel the allusions to Friday throughout the first half and even the main character's name (Freya is the Norse goddess of beauty, related to the Germanic Frigga, which is where we get Frigga's day, or Friday). The ending is also something that reminded me a bit of the classic Heinlein ending.

Anyway, Freya is a robot -- though that word has developed about the same connotation as (the n-word), and for about the same reasons. She was originally designed as a courtesan (the jacket cover uses the word 'femmebot'), as one of the copies of her prototype, Rhea. Then humanity did Freya the disservice of going extinct around the same time she came off the assembly line, leaving her without a reason to exist and a way to stay alive.

One of the bits I really like in this book is that it takes Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics and starts questioning what that means for the robots. (Funnily enough, I remember reading an Asimov essay which was about how he came up with the Three Laws as a premise for stories where the robots weren't destined to revolt against humanity.) Outside of exploration bots that were never intended to operate around humans, everyone in Freya's world has an inbuilt deference to humans, to the point where Freya nearly loses it when she first meets Jeeves, a set of sibling out-of-work butlers running a courier operation, despite the fact she knows that she is in the stratosphere of Venus, breathing carbon dioxide in amounts that might kill a human if the anoxia didn't get to him first. Essentially, what happens when you have creatures literally designed to be slaves and overseer-slaves, and then suddenly kill the masters? Freya notes that her and her sibs (others of her model) could never be aristos (those bots, mostly humanoid personal secretaries and that kind of thing, that seized power as humanity declined), since they had too much empathy**, and her sibs refused to let each other be slaves.

Aside from the robots, the space opera had the old feel of real tech, with people fussing over mass limits and times -- Freya notes that many of the new robots off Earth are built or remade as 'chibi', because they have less mass so can live and travel cheaper. Also, chopping off limbs and buying new ones at one's destination is not unheard of, nor is putting oneself in hibernation or slowing one's internal clock. We also see a lot of the Solar System -- cloud cities on Venus, railed cities on Mercury, space elevators on Mars, a mining town on Callisto, and even a trip to Eris.

Now, Freya was designed to be a sexpot (sexbot?), so you do get some sex, especially with other beings that are far from human-shaped. If this bothers you, I'd reckon you shouldn't read it. There's also some consent issues later in the book.

One of my pet peeves is that the cultural mix seems off. Most of the characters with human names have Western ones, yet we get touches of Japanese culture -- the aristos take on bishoujo (big eyes, small nose, pointed chin -- think CLAMP) and chibi (big eyes and short limbs) forms, to the point where android and gynoids that can pass as human are considered ugly reminders of the past, and Freya herself was made by a Japanese company. Yet, we don't see any evidence of this in given names. I can believe Japan would go head-on into making robots, but I can't believe that we wouldn't get at least one Aiko or Michiru or something.

* 'Problematic' seems to be feminist-speak for 'this has some pretty sexist themes, but I don't think the author meant it that way, and I like it anyway'. Heinlein was very much a product of his times.

** I mean, you want someone created to be the perfect lover to have empathy up the wazoo, so that s/he can understand what you're going through and work with it.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,015 followers
August 1, 2017
I haven’t really got on with any of Stross’ books, but I’ve never hated them in the way that made me really disinclined to pick up another. I was hopeful about Saturn’s Children — I can’t remember why, but I think it was somebody’s review. And I must say that I probably got along with it better than with most of Stross’ other work that I’ve read. Unfortunately… that isn’t saying much, and there was a great deal I found annoying or even icky about this. I know that it’s meant to be a pastiche/parody of a certain period of Heinlein’s writing, but I haven’t read those books, so I don’t know the references, which didn’t help.

But mostly it’s the way, way over-sexualised stuff and the heavy-handed rape metaphors, and a general feeling that nothing could be off-the-wall enough to surprise me. It’s not that I predicted the plot, it’s just that I felt it might go more or less anywhere, regardless of the information I already had. That’s a feeling I really hate when I’m reading fiction.

It’s not like Freya actually breaks out of the sex-doll-turned-spy mould at all. She pretty much does exactly what you’d expect, with a pouting petulance all the way. She didn’t have a distinctive voice, which made it difficult to tell her apart from Juliette and figure out the personality changes. It did keep me turning pages, but mostly just to get to the end.

So, overall, meh. (For me. I know I’m in a minority in being lukewarm at best on Stross’ work.)

Reviewed for The Bibliophibian.
Profile Image for Bruce.
261 reviews40 followers
October 27, 2008
Well, three and a half stars ;-)

I have a sort of proprietary narcissistic interest in stross, given that I found out about him early in his career, bought Toast when it was his only published book. Or maybe it's just that I like his writing.

But for some reason the guy just puts out stuff that has a high amount of mediocrity to it. Maybe it's the crazy amount of books he's writing-- I mean, you don't make any money as a sci fi author, so I understand, or maybe that's just how he writes, mostly.

Anyway, huge amounts of really cool ideas. Quite an original idea for the set up of the whole story, well done. Lots of other cool ideas along the way.

But I do not like the voice of the main character. And Stross does not write great sex scenes, and since the main character is a sex robot, problem.

Wording is clumsy or awkward in places. Takes too much time to get going, and then all the onion layers of mystery get thrown on and resolved at the very end at a breakneck pace.

interesting note-- the copy of the book here in NZ (british published) has a spaceship on the front cover, not a (badly drawn) sexy robot.

and, wee SPOILER...

For all of his really cool and original ideas, why does he have to trot out the oh so oh so overused tired SF trope of the main characters going off to colonize another star at the end. Utter lack of invention, creative bankruptcy in fact, sorry.
Profile Image for Michael Hawke.
5 reviews1 follower
October 16, 2014
I cannot recommend this book, even though it is very well written and has a very interesting projection of what life might be like without humans. Stross is a good writer, no doubt about it; there is one scene in particular in this book that I read over and over: the scene with Freya and Stone on the train, it is spectacular in every way (took my breath away).

The reason I can't recommend it, and it is a very big reason, is because of Freya herself, and to be quite frank, the rest of the female cast. I was happy to accept her being a femmebot, after all, she had no choice in the matter, what I cannot abide is...

This book is a prime example of intelligent world building without ethics. No matter how beautiful the paint strokes are, it is still misogyny masquerading as art. Very disappointing from an author who writes science fiction as well as this.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,778 reviews1,776 followers
July 18, 2014
If nothing else, my experiment in reading Charles Stross for the first time resulted in one of the most unique reading experiences I’ve had in the last couple of years.

This book was somewhat of an impulse read. I wanted to read Stross’s Neptune’s Brood, because it was one of the few Hugo noms I hadn’t read yet, but noticed it was the second in a series. All the reviews said you didn’t need to read the first one, but I’m me, and I have to do things in order or my brain will explode and I will die. So I picked this up from the library because it was there when I went to pick up Skin Game . . . and, well . . .

So, you know how they say never to judge a book by its cover? This book is, like, the epitome of that cliched phrase. It’s what that cliche was invented for. Because honestly? I think most of the time that phrase is shit. I judge books by their covers ALL THE TIME. And you know what? I am REALLY REALLY GOOD at picking out books that I end up liking. Covers are definitely a factor that I consider (though by no means are they the only factor). There are definitely books I’ve loved that have horrible covers, but they are the exception, not the rule. And the thing about Saturn’s Children isn’t even that it’s a bad cover (in the sense that the artwork quality is poor), just an extraordinarily ill-chosen one:
The first edition of @cstross's SATURN'S CHILDREN has the porniest cover. I was getting the DIRTIEST looks while reading in public today.

— Ashley (@narfna) May 23, 2014

I’m assuming this is a complaint he receives often, as he replied to me with this link to his blog. And I get it. I even think the cover makes sense in context, although I also think it’s probably somewhat of a cheap ploy on the part of the publishers. And a certain kind of reader is very much going to be drawn to this book, either because they want to read naughty fiction, or because (like me) they’re going to go WHAT THE HELL? and then get really, really curious about what that book could possibly contain. But most people? Uh, they’re going to get the wrong idea. I have a strong feeling that this cover probably turned away more potential readers than it brought in, but that’s just my opinion.

So why does the cover make sense in context? Well, because the main character is a sexbot. Or rather, a femmebot. Anyway, she’s an artificially intelligent robot, and she and her lineage sisters were designed to please a race of beings that went extinct soon after she was created. That’s right, Freya (our heroine) is a sexbot without anyone to have sex with. Her very purpose for existing is dead and gone. And with Freya and her sisters, it’s not just about sex. They are also programmed to love their creators uncontrollably, to the point of losing their minds and their free will. But Freya and her sisters, though their slavery is the most obvious, are not the only robots to depend on humans. All robots are programmed to be subserviant to human kind. In the absence of humans, however, robot class itself has stratified, with certain ‘high class’ robots rising up to be ‘aristos,’ dominating over their fellow robots with money, power, and in some cases, slave chips.

While I found large parts of this engaging, even bizarrely humorous, a lot of the time I was simply frustrated, due to the way Stross structured his narrative. The biggest problem, I think, was the passive narrator, Freya. Her story is told in the first person, and as immediately engaging as this was, it was equally problematic. Freya spends most of the book almost as confused as the reader (I say almost, because at least Freya has the rather large advantage of knowing the way her own world works — we as readers have to sort that out, as well as what the hell else is going on). The whole book, we follow Freya as she goes from one place to another, often on very long and arduous space journeys, given missions by one boss or another, and only getting trickles of information at a time. She barely makes any decisions for herself, and doesn’t engage in self-analysis (or much of any other kind of analysis) until the end of the book. Now, I recognize that her behavior is part of the criticism of slavery, that she has been trained by her social system to passively accept life around her and follow orders, but that doesn’t make reading about her story in this fashion any less frustrating (or confusing, as Stross chose to add espionage plots on top of the rest of it). It’s basically a clusterfuck of confusion, at least until the end, and even then I’m still not entirely sure I understood it all.

Sci-fi as a genre is fixated on ideas, and Stross excels at that. His plots and characters illuminate the issues of slavery, economy, identity, and the stagnation that results in interesting ways. His worldbuilding is also excellent–the robot society he imagined is vivid, and spread across the solar system. His universe feels lived in and plausible (brief flashes of dirt and humor make it more so). Even the fact that the robots have sex (and they have a lot of it) lends an extra dimension of reality to his fictional world. And the idea of examining a post-human world (in which one of the objectives of the robots is actually to resurrect humanity) is a brilliant one. But great sci-fi doesn’t just have ideas, it has ideas and great characters. It’s in that respect that I think this book is lacking. Freya makes for an easy and interesting point of view in this world, but she herself is an empty vessel.

Anyway, despite the issues I had with it, the flashes of brilliance I saw in it were enough that I will definitely be reading more of Stross’s stuff in the future.
Profile Image for AndrewP.
1,437 reviews32 followers
June 23, 2021
A very interesting premise this universe. Mankind invented sentient robots to serve them but then became extinct, leaving all the robots behind. The main character is an unemployed (obviously) sex bot, which brings up some very unusual social problems.

Some clever stuff here and I think I found the inventiveness of the worldbuilding more interesting that the actual story. Nowhere else have I see flora and fauna referred to as 'solar powered, self replicating green goo', and 'self replicating pink goo'.

Not bad but I do not think I am invested enough to read the sequel.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,121 reviews112 followers
February 7, 2021
This is a SF novel subtitled a “space opera” and as the author notes in is blog post is a homage to Robert A. Heinlein. I read is as a part of monthly reading for February 2021 at Hugo & Nebula Awards: Best Novels group. The book was nominated for Hugo in 2009, got 74 (of 639) votes on the nomination and then lost to The Graveyard Book and got the 4th place.

The protagonist is a femmebot (sex robot, a reference to Friday) Freya Nakamichi-47, and she lives in the world without humans, so the very goal of her initial creation is absent. It is the 24th century and before extinction mankind made a lot of robots and colonized internal planets and moons of gas giants and there is a new political system with new aristocrats and servants. A lot of text is spent on hard(-ish) SF ways of space travel, from solar sails to fission bombs. Also adventures, which are clear homage to classic adventures, e.g. getting a damsel on a rail before coming of a rushing train.

Overall, on a surface it is a quite simple series of adventures linked by a mystery and a spy plot. The blog above allows to see deeper meaning but it is not evident in the text itself, so this says that the text is not of a very high quality
Profile Image for Karlo.
421 reviews22 followers
February 17, 2009
This is the first of Stross' books that misfired for me.

Stross starts out by quoting Newton "standing on the shoulders of giants..." and then referencing Heinlein and Asimov. I remember liking Heinlein's Friday a great deal, but then that was 20 years ago when I was a Teenager. I read "The Moon is a Harsh Mistess" more recently and enjoyed it, so I'm cool with Heinlein. Asimov is more problematic; I've read lost of his stuff, but even then I found his ideas were neat, but his characters where a little thin for me, particularly in the Foundation series.

So, what does that have to do with not enjoying this book as much? I'm not sure. The plot summary you can get elsewhere, so I'll just say that I didn't care about the Protagonist, and that the plot resolution wasn't satisfying. The robot sex was smirk inducing; more so because I kept getting Sorayama-inspired visuals from old OMNI magasines popping into my head.

YMMV, but I guess I'd say this one I'd wished I'd borrowed from the library.
Profile Image for Tamara.
261 reviews77 followers
September 1, 2013
The concept for this - the adventures of an angsty sexbot in a post-human solar system - sounds almost like one of those risible kindle freebie erotic romances, (cover doing all it can to help out.) The execution is somewhat better, and I was ultimately impressed by the willingness to follow a thread through from humor and titillation through to questions about free will and slavery. It didn't quite get me there, intellectually or emotionally, but it is an interesting attempt. Just too much of a tonal shift demanded at the end, but A for effort.

There's also a decent bang-for-buck in terms of space structure and society stuff, if that happens to be what rocks your boat (a moving railway city on Mercury is the thing now, I take it?) but the plot gets tangled and incomprehensible pretty fast, with a variety of totally indistinguishable factions and unpleasant but nevertheless very thinly portrayed minor characters. On the other hand, it is pretty funny at times. Especially if you happen to like bad puns. Which I do, way too much. Well, we've all got our kinks.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,109 followers
November 19, 2013
I enjoy a good space opera every now and then, but more importantly, I enjoy Mr. Stross's space operas very very much. Sometimes, his novels remind me of the best genre virtuosity. It is an ongoing commentary on all the greats, like Asimov and Heinlein, and it tickled my funny bone to revisit the three laws.

I'll be honest, though. While the story was fun in a light but slightly twisted way, I still got a lot more enjoyment out of the ideas. It reminded me why I preferred sci-fi over almost all types of literature in the first place!

The best of the light humor of the novel was reserved almost entirely for the end, unfortunately. I probably would have enjoyed droll much more had it been established much earlier. Otherwise, I had a good time reading about a future where humanity died out because it couldn't be bothered to screw members of its own species to save its life.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,118 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
January 3, 2017
Took this back to the library after 100 pages. I don't mind the sex, and I usually like bots and other similar creatures. I think what I don't like is space opera, a term which makes authors feel as if they need to draw out a story longer than it requires. This concept would have been a spectacular novella, even a short story, of what the femmebots created to please humans are to do when the humans are extinct. It has great potential for poignancy and depth, but I got bored of the space trips and dwarf battles, especially when they were repeated.
Profile Image for Nicholas Perez.
441 reviews97 followers
Want to read
May 10, 2023
Managed to find a copy of this without the weird, horney cover.
Profile Image for Harold Ogle.
318 reviews43 followers
March 18, 2013
I loved the central conceit to this book: it's almost an opposite to Asimov's Robots series. In this, humans created robots with artificial processors modeled on human brains (Stross never quite calls it a positronic brain, but...) and installed the Three Laws of Robotics as every good science fiction author seems to have them do. But in this, the humans then died off because they no longer had to work for anything. In the hundreds of years since, the robots have continued maintaining and building human society, at the same time desperately longing for (because it's programmed into every fiber of their beings) and absolutely terrified by the eventual return of their merciless human overlords. Though I wouldn't call this cyberpunk, it does have some similarities: the big villains are corporations and conglomerates, which because of our stupid human laws are essentially entities in themselves. As such, they can own property. The robots running the corporations can then own other robots, enslaving them nearly as effectively as the disgusting biological Creators (the robots commonly refer to animal and plant life as "pink goo" and "green goo," respectively).

It's a compelling conceit, but I found it astonishingly, tremendously hard to read. This book really did not grab my attention...in fact, it almost repelled it. I would start reading, and then invariably I would either set it aside to find something else to do, or fall asleep. The really weird thing is that I don't know why I had this reaction! There's a lot to take objection to, certainly, but my visceral reaction was on a subconscious level that seems more than the sum of the problems with the book, most of which are minor niggles.

First of all, the full book title is Saturn's Children: A Space Opera. Take heed: this has nothing to do with the conventional definition of space opera (which is plot-oriented space fantasy filled with action and aliens) and is, instead, more of an opera, set in space. With robots! That is to say, the book involves a lot of overdramatic monologues, lots of introspection, a largely incomprehensible plot, betrayals, sex and death. The only thing missing is the music.

The book is about a particular android named Freya, nth in a mass-produced line of robots based on the template of Rhea, a female robot designed to please her human's every sexual whim. Freya is habitually depressed, because she was created about seventy years after the last human died, so her purpose in life is essentially meaningless. She's also hopelessly out of vogue, as a machine designed to resemble a human. Considering suicide at a party on Venus, she is accosted by a bunch of corporate slave-owning midget robots and she disassembles one of them in self-defense. He swears revenge, and thus begins a long run from planet to planet across much of the solar system (though never, strangely, to Saturn, rendering the book's title even more meaningless, or at least terribly obscure [1]). As she flees from place to place, she makes a series of alliances with different groups. Another problem I had with this story is that it is written in a style that felt as if it was trying to be a noir mystery, aping Hammett. As a conceit, that actually appeals to me ("A hard boiled robot thriller? Count me in!"), but it really didn't gel for me. A big part of the problem is that the plot got very, very convoluted. There were two elements that contributed to this: first, most of the robots [2] store and use the "soul chips" of their predecessor incarnations, so that they can integrate and learn from the experiences of the ones that came before them. This means that a large part of the book jumps around between different incarnations in time and place, as Freya relives their experiences. You can see how this would be disorienting for the robot; it's written intentionally to be disorienting for the reader, as well. You often can't tell which character's point of view you're following. The second element that makes the plot exceedingly convoluted is a corollary to the one I just mentioned: most of the characters have several incarnations in the story, and for many of them, they are all in the story simultaneously, each working to different ends. Sometimes Freya, our narrator, uses a pet name for the characters, and sometimes she uses their common template name. So in addition to the difficulty in knowing where and when you are in the story, it's also difficult to keep track of which character is doing what at any given time. It's just a mess.

The book's cover art I found particularly disturbing, but I'm not sure if that's genius, just annoying, or perhaps both. It's ridiculous cheesecake, first of all, but in a way that's appropriate to the character of Freya. To add insult to injury, it's really badly done Lawnmower Man-era CGI cheesecake. For much of the two weeks (TWO WEEKS!) I was struggling through the reading of this book, I was offended at the thought that they couldn't This, too, is consistent with the character: she's supposed to look almost human: artificial, but clearly close enough to human that her manufacturers imagined that people would use her as a sex toy. Creepy, and I found myself profoundly embarrassed to be reading a book with such a cover. I imagine that some women reading romance novels with lurid covers would have similar issues.

In many ways, the book feels like it was written without an outline, as the pacing is very languid throughout most of the novel, and then very abrupt at the end. The last twenty pages contain a lot of fundamental information about the characters that would have, in another book, been introductory information provided early on and then recalled at the end. So there's a bunch of "astonishing" reveals at the end (which I feel would have all been better as character background), and the plot goes plop. The end.

I've read many books that were far worse than this one, and Saturn's Children: a Space Opera has a lot of good things going for it. But it really didn't work well for me. I didn't hate it or even dislike it. I found elements fascinating, and others irritating. Overall, it was OK.

1 - One of Saturn's moons is called Rhea, which was the original sex robot on which Freya was modeled. So in that sense, you could say that Freya was a child of Saturn, IF you can think of the moon Rhea as being one of Saturn's "children" first. Rhea was the name of a Titan (Uranus' children) in Greek mythology, while Saturn was one of the first Roman gods. Much of Saturn's story was lifted from the Greek precursor, Cronus, Rhea's brother and husband. So, bear with me: in Ancient Grecian tradition, Rhea was with Cronus and bore many children - most of the Greek Gods, with the exception of Aphrodite. Saturn was a Roman god largely based on Cronus. The sex robot Freya was built off a template of the robot called Rhea. So if you can follow all that logic to understand "Saturn's Children," then you're ready for the rest of the book, as it involves a lot of convolutions similar to that one.

2 - In the beginning of the novel, Stross writes about this storing and reliving old memories as if it's something unique or unusual to the Rhea line, but as the book progresses, it becomes clear that every single major character in the book is doing the same thing, making it seem as if every robot does it.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 612 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.