Book review · novel

Book review: Sea of Rust

Sea of Rust, by C. Robert Cargill

isbn9781473212800Description: (from The Orion Publishing Group)

Humankind is extinct. Wiped out in a global uprising by the very machines made to serve them. Now the world is controlled by One World Intelligences – vast mainframes that have assimilated the minds of millions of robots.

But not all robots are willing to cede their individuality, and Brittle – a loner and scavenger, focused solely on survival – is one of the holdouts.

Only, individuality comes at a price, and after a near-deadly encounter with another AI, Brittle is forced to seek sanctuary. Not easy when an OWI has decided to lay siege to the nearest safe city.

Critically damaged, Brittle has to hold it together long enough to find the essential rare parts to make repairs – but as a robot’s CPU gradually deteriorates, all their old memories resurface. For Brittle, that means one haunting memory in particular . . .

Sea of Rust boldly imagines a future in which no hope should remain, and yet a humanlike AI strives to find purpose among the ruins.

Expected publication: September 7th 2017.
A review copy (eARC) of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley. Some things might change in the final copy.

I love stories from robots/AI’s point of view so I was very excited about this novel.
For once I read the description before reading (a thing I rarely do) and I have to say it is too bad that this official description of the novel is a summary of the first 40%. A bit too much is revealed there, so even if I liked to learn how the robot uprising happened, I was often left wondering if that was the only thing this book was about. (It is not entirely, but it is still a 50/50% ratio I’d say.)

If I had a heart, it would have been pounding; breath, it would have been held. Instead my insides whirred and chirped all but silently, calculating the many different ways this would go down.

For the setting, imagine a mix of Mad Max (without the humans) and Wall-E (but much more than just one robot, this one more pragmatic and hunting dying robots for parts) filled with robots trying to survive the differents OWI (=one world intelligence) trying to bring every robots into one big Artificial Intelligence. So, no more animals, plants or humans.

The main character is Brittle, a ruthless scavanger who swears a lot. At first I hadn’t understood that she identified as female because there is no indication until a bit later. The robots having genders had me a bit confused but it was explained later by the fact that they identify as such from the voice they were given, and by a nice thought that “no thinking thing should ever be called IT”. She didn’t really felt like a robot but it is also explained later by the fact that she was a robot made to care for humans so she has more empathy/emotions. This explains why she has a lot of thoughts about what being a robot means, what they have in common with humans or not, what is life and the meaning of it.

“This core is worthless to you. You’re a Caregiver, you were designed to feel, to connect, to relate to human existence.”

This above paragraph shows that all the questions I found I had (there were a lot) were answered at one point or another. This is nice but since there often was a long time before I asked myself something and it was answered, it sometimes felt like the writing was sloppy and should have addressed these points sooner. It’s disappointing because it shows that the author in fact HAD thought about this too, but the reader (at least in my case) is sometimes left with the impression that the worldbuilding was unconvincing. So it’s obvious a lot of thoughts went into the world-building of this story, and I was very intrigued by it and invested in understanding it all, but it wasn’t always explained soon enough for me.

The one truth you need to know about the end of a machine is that the closer they are to death, the more they act like people.

Sea of Rust could almost feel like a documentary, there were a lot of flashbacks to the war, to the life before, how everything came to this point… It almost feel like the author had this whole setting in his mind, had everything figured out, and just needed a plot and a character to turn it all into a novel. I could be wrong and it could be the reverse, but it is the impression it gave me. It is not necessarily a bad one, but the world-building was indeed a big part of this novel.
A lot more is revealed about Brittle once she comes to team up with other robots, and that was the moment I started enjoying the story a bit more. The characters are really interesting, the plot starts moving faster, it was an enjoyable ride.

Some random thoughts left:

  • I was disappointed that one of my favourite character had to die quite early.
  • Some things felt a bit far-fetched.
  • It felt a bit weird that there were a lot of emphasis around robots with breasts, sex robots and all. We all know that humans are disgusting and that it will come to that someday, but I thought it had way too much a part in this story? Maybe that’s just me.
  • I’d be interested to read a review written by a person of colour because I felt like there were some parallels made with human history that were maybe not well handled. That’s just a feeling, and I don’t think I am the best person to judge so I’ll just leave it at that.
  • It’s cool that the US president at the time the robot apocalypse went down was a woman.
  • There is a glossary at the end, but I managed to understand it all without it. Still, publisher: please start putting glossary at the START and not the end so that we know we can go back to look for a definition.

I want to state again that while there seem to be a lot of negative things in this review, I did liked this novel! Sea of Rust made me chuckle at times, but had also some very serious moments, it gives a lot to think about. I rated it 3/5 on goodreads, which equals to “liked it”!

For people like me who love to read about robots, it was a very entertaining novel. It is not ground-breaking, but I totally don’t regret reading it. It was quite a fast read and while I’m not over the moon about it overall, I’d say if you love stories where robots are main characters, you could very much enjoy this.

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