Novel Review: Saturn’s Children

Today is the two hundredth anniversary of the final extinction of my One True Love, as close as I can date it.

In Charlie Stross’s space opera, nominated for a 2009 Hugo, the future brings wild adventures, interplanetary espionage, intelligent spaceships, and floating cities. Earth has established colonies throughout the solar system, and its inhabitants are now reaching for the stars.

Pity no human beings have survived to see it.

General Information

Title: Saturn’s Children.

Author: Charles Stross

Original Publication Date: July 2008

ISBN: 9780441015948

Buy from:

Kindle Edition


An android, originally created as a robo-courtesan, finds herselves entangled in a complex interplanetary plot in a future where human beings have become extinct, and their manufactured slaves roam and run the solar system.

At the center of the plot lies a secret that could end the robotic way of life.

High Point:

Stross has worked out the details of how a society of artificial ex-slaves might function, and it does not always function well for our heroine, a Barbie in a world run by Bratz dolls and Anime figurines.* The novel most intrigues me when Stross relates the inner workings of his characters. In doing so, he comments both on possible android psychology and on our own. Many reader will find his suggestions both disturbing and plausible.

Why do so many people embrace social and sexual conventions that work to someone else’s advantage?

Low Point:

Once again, Stross’s ending overruns with explanation and exposition. After pages of intelligent, thought-provoking story and characterization, I felt rushed through a conclusion that at times reads like a commentary track.

The Scores

Originality: 4/6 Stross has an remarkable ability to transform old conventions in unexpected and original ways.

Story: 4/6

Characterization: 5/6 I’m favourably impressed by Stross’s ability to juggle his narrator’s personality, experiences, programming, and the personalities, experiences, and programming she has inherited from her “sisters.” Not since Glasshouse has SF wrestled so intelligently with the question of identity.

Some of the minor characters seem less affected by their histories.

Imagery: 6/6

The stars glare down like lidless, unblinking specks set deep in the sockets of a skull-like sky…. There’s moonlight… I look up at the tiny, fleeting pebble in the sky, racing from horizon to horizon, and when I look higher still I see the ghostly knife-edge of Bifrost, slicing the sky in half. That’ll be Phoebus. Of course, I’m on Mars…. I’m nervous. No, Juliette is nervous. I’m frightened. Because, you know, this isn’t the first time I’ve woken up inside another of my sister’s memories– and bad things can happen to you in there (74-75)

Emotional Response: 4/6

Editing: 5/6. The book features strong writing, though it falters in places– most notably near the conclusion.

Overall Score: 5/6. Response to Stross’s characteristic SF in-jokes will vary among his readers. Likewise, the sexual content will receive mixed reviews from some– and delight others. Be warned.

In total, Saturn’s Children receives 33/42

Additional Thoughts

In a year where YA dominates the novels, Stross has contributed an SF work containing decidedly adult content. It’s good, but I think The Graveyard Book, is better, and its author’s status as 2009 Guest of Honor likely will override any feelings that a children’s book isn’t an appropriate choice.

One more nominated novel to read and review– and it comes with some strong recommendations.

Also– z’anyone else out there going to be at WorldCon (Anticipation) this summer, in Montreal?

*With labor provided by Ding-a-lings, if we want to stretch the toy metaphor

One reply

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Some of the sex stuff might have been over the top. I can see why a courtesan model android would be programmed for sexual responses, but why would the other types of androids have ever been programmed that way? Unless they evolved somehow, it doesn’t work so well for me.

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