The novel “Saturn’s Children” by Charles Stross was published for the first time in 2008.
After the extinction of humanity, robots built their own society similar to the human one and spread throughout the solar system. Freya Nakamichi-47 was programmed as a concubine but there’s no one who requires her services anymore so she has to do the best she can to survive because even robots need maintenance.
Freya reached a point when she contemplated suicide: living in the stratosphere of Venus, she could just jump for even her body to be torn to pieces and then destroyed by the planet’s corrosive atmosphere. Unfortunately, just when she realizes that she’s not ready to die, involuntarily she causes the wrath of an “aristo”, one of the rulers of the robots society. To go away from Venus she accepts a job as a courier but ends up deeply involved in a clash among aristos that could have profound consequences on the robots society.
“Saturn’s Children” is dedicated to the memory of two giants of science fiction: Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. It’s not just a general admiration for these two great writers: in fact, writing this novel Charles Stross was inspired by their works. In particular, the story has many points of contact with Heinlein’s “Friday” though it’s set in a society of robots programmed with an advanced version of the famous Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics that forces them to unconditionally love humans.
Charles Stross’s Freya has many points in common with Robert A. Heinlein’s Friday: she’s an artificial person, though she’s a robot and not the result of genetic engineering, she’s a courier and is sexually active, because robots have their own sexuality too. In “Saturn’s Children” Freya also uses the name Friday Baldwin as an alias. However, Freya wasn’t trained to be a courier and has to face robots that can be physically stronger than her so she has to struggle to escape dangers.
However, beyond those tributes Freya’s adventures around the solar system are developed by Charles Stross in his own way. In “Saturn’s Children” humans created robots similar to them basically to have slaves. In the episode “The Measure of a Man” of TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” there’s a debate about the nature of Data as a sentient being and therefore free or as a property. Captain Picard and Guinan reflect about the fact that if Data is a property it would mean that creating more androids like him would be a way to create slaves. In “Saturn’s Children” that’s the choice made by humans.
In “Saturn’s Children” robots are not necessarily androids / gynoids. Many specialize in certain functions so they have non-humanoid forms and even spaceships may have an artificial intelligence of that kind. Even among humanoid robots there are different degrees of similarity with humans and Charles Stross describes them with terms typical of manga and anime such as bishojo and chibi.
Robots brain isn’t the positronic one from Isaac Asimov’s stories: in “Saturn’s Children” humans created an artificial neural structure similar to theirs. This means that even a robot needs to mentally grow to become the equivalent of an adult, however it’s possible to take the memory of an adult robot and create copies obtaining a series of similar robots.
Sibling robots are similar enough to be able to exchange chips containing their memories. Freya has a chip of a sibling who disappeared and during the novel at times her identity leaves room to her sibling’s. Freya is also working for a robot whose siblings are on various planets and moons in the solar system, where they run their organization.
Freya’s sometimes blurred identity and the existence of robots sometimes difficult to identify individually is perhaps the most complex part of “Saturn’s Children”. You can’t say that characters are not developed but also considering the fact that the plot is very intricate it can discourage some readers.
Indeed, the novel requires attention while reading so its complexity is a strength for those who appreciate a story of that kind. Instead it’s a reason to avoid it for people who prefer stories that don’t have continuous twists and ambiguities in the characters identities.
Overall, “Saturn’s Children” is a fine novel but even if I’m a fan of Charles Stross due to its complexity I can’t recommend it to people who prefer a relaxing reading.