Then, after spending half a century on what an earlier age would have described as a war footing, on the eve of a widely-publicized announcement of some importance… Atlantis went dark (189)

Stross sets this novel in the same universe as Saturn’s Children, but it can only be called a sequel in the loosest sense. One need not have read the earlier book to enjoy this one, wherein a posthuman construct carries a secret that draws the attention of interstellar monarchs, a human church, and the space pirates of the Crimson Permanent Assurance Company.

Private ownership of a fully configured slave chip is illegal in many polities: It tends to be a government monopoly, much like other forms of violence.

But I had fallen among pirates and life insurance underwriters. Surely it should be no surprise that such dubious practices might be everyday business among such persons! (99)

Title: Neptune’s Brood1

Author: Charles Stross

First published in July 2013
ISBN: 0425256774
978-0425256770
Available from Amazon.uk, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and as a kindle.

Premise:

Five-thousand years from now, the human race has gone extinct and been recreated, but the stars largely belong to our artificial progeny, physically superior but psychologically too much like us. Krina Alizond 114 heads to a settled waterworld to find her missing sister and continue her research. She carries with her part of a secret related to a colony that “went dark.” Her journey attracts the attention of interstellar monarch, a human church, and the space pirates of the Crimson Permanent Assurance Company.

High Points:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that every interstellar colony in search of good fortune must be in need of a banker. (41)

Most SF (especially Space Opera, as Stross identifies this novel) handwaves travel to distant stars and ignores the fine details of interstellar economics. Stross has made both central to the story. His characters don’t have FTL or any other sort of space-going cheat code. The plot emphasizes the economics of interstellar settlements, and the fact that colonial financing involves a kind of Ponzi scheme.

Despite the plot’s basis in elements so potentially dry that most SF ignores them, Stross tells a fun, fascinating adventure that had me laughing more often than many expressly comedic writers.

Low Points:

Stross juggles more bizarre speculative concepts in a novel than many writers manage in a career, and a certain amount of infodump must be expected. Here, we find pages of exposition and explanation that Heinlein might find excessive. The approach also blunts, somewhat, the suspense in the otherwise quickly-paced final chapters.

The Scores:

“…I didn’t even know this system had space pirates! Um. What do they do, exactly? Swap illicit files and denounce the evils of intellectual property?” (58)

Originality: 6/6

Imagery: 5/6

Story: 5/6

Characterization: 5/6 Strange though their circumstance may be, we can understand these characters and their motivations. The post-meta-human psychology derives from ours, and they are very much their parents’ children.

The villains have real motives but, alas, too little real personality.

Emotional Response: 4/6

Editing: 5/6 Stross remains a clear writer. He loves his allusions and nerdy gags. These work with varying degrees of success; YMMV.

Overall score: 5/6 Stross has had an illustrious career, with his best work to date, Glasshouse an established SF classic. SF fans will be reading his varied novels for some time, and I recommend this one. Nevertheless, I still await that lasting, brilliant, genre-defying and -defining novel I expected he would write when I first picked up Singularity Sky back in aught-four.

In total, Neptune’s Brood receives 35/42

Note

1. Don’t confuse Stross’s novel with Bonnie Dobkin’s similarly-titled young people’s novel.