It’s Clarke Award time! As I did for the last two years, I plan on reading and reviewing all the books shortlisted.
If you have not seen the shortlist already, here it is:
- Borne by Jeff Vandermeer
- Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
- American War by Omar El Akkad
- Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
- Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
- Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock
The winner will be announced July 18th so my goal is to read and review every book before that. So brace yourself for some serious Clarke spam in the next few days. 😉
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 416 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Publication Date: November 16th 2017
It is thirty years since the humans lost their war with the artificial intelligences that were once their slaves. Not one human remains. But as the dust settled from our extinction there was no easy peace between the robots that survived. Instead, the two massively powerful artificially intelligent supercomputers that led them to victory now vie for control of the bots that remain, assimilating them into enormous networks called One World Intelligences (OWIs), absorbing their memories and turning them into mere extensions of the whole. Now the remaining freebots wander wastelands that were once warzones, picking the carcasses of the lost for the precious dwindling supply of parts they need to survive.
BRITTLE started out his life playing nurse to a dying man, purchased in truth instead to look after the man’s widow upon his death. But then war came and Brittle was forced to choose between the woman he swore to protect and potential oblivion at the hands of rising anti-AI sentiment. Thirty years later, his choice still haunts him. Now he spends his days in the harshest of the wastelands, known as the Sea of Rust, cannibalizing the walking dead – robots only hours away from total shutdown – looking for parts to trade for those he needs to keep going.
Thirty years have passed since the robots won the war against humanity. Humans are long dead and AIs are free to roam the surface of the Earth. However the fight isn’t over as two OWIs, One World Intelligences, huge powerful mainframes, still fight to control and absorb the memories of the remaining bots. Their is aim is to be the last entities operating on Earth and to turn into supercomputers with so much data that they will almost become Gods.
Brittle is an old Caregiver robot and she doesn’t want any part in this conflict between the two OWIs. She just wants to be left alone to collect parts of dying robots in order to sell them afterwards. She does that to other bots to buy other parts that she’ll need for herself. Indeed, after humanity died out and the OWIs turned onto each other, nobody manufactures new parts for robots and their only way to survive is by stealing and taking parts from other dead, or living, robots. During an attack to steal some of her parts, Brittle finds herself damaged and, in order to survive, she has to take on a deadly mission with other bots across the Sea of Rust.
This book is a story of survival, death and humanity’s legacy. The worldbuilding was excellent, most chapters alternate between Brittle’s present and her account of how the AI rebellion came to be. The structure is very interesting because it allows us to learn little by little about the world and what was the catalyst for the conflict.
The premise is very interesting because it’s a play on a trope that we see all the time: the fight between AIs and humans and, for one, the AIs are the winner. However, as we quickly learn, by being created by humans, AIs tend to repeat the exact same errors as their creators. When the story starts, we learn Earth is basically dead, all living organisms were killed by the robots during the war. Because of this lack of life, the land is a lifeless desert where the remaining robots are left to rust.
In order to be free themselves from the OWIs, the last robots have to keep fleeing from the attacks of the mainframes. Brittle’s entire post-war life has constitued of fleeing her enemies but also her memories and what she had to do to buy her freedom. She did, does and will do anything to keep on fighting just one more day, even if in this decaying world, her only occupation is to cannibalize other dying bots to buy herself one more day.
In their fight against humans, we realize that AIs have turned into what they despise the most: humans. It’s visible by the way they talk about the war but also about their memories and their fight for freedom. What surprised me the most was the use of gender, I was surprised that Brittle saw herself as female and other bots used masculine pronouns . Between their genders and how they express themselves, it was sometimes easy to forget that we were reading from the perspective of robots. It might be one of my problem with this book, the fact that AIs seem to loose what made them different from humans in the first place. I’m pretty sure it was the aim of the novel but still, it felt a bit odd.
However, this book was still a very interesting study of humanity without having a single human character. This aspect reminded me of Animal Farm.
I really liked Sea of Rust, it was clever and thought-provoking but it was still fun and I couldn’t put it down. It had been on my radar since its release and I’m glad the fact it was shortlisted pushed me to finally pick it up. I definitely want to read other work by Cargill. Do I think that it is the best science fiction book published in 2017? No but it’s still good. I would prefer Borne to win this year’s Clarke but still, I would definitely recommend Sea of Rust.