Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Saturn's Children by Charles Stross

I finished reading Saturn's Children by Charles Stross. This is the third of Stross' books that I have read in the last year. The other two were Rule 34 and Halting State. Before we left for Hawaii, I downloaded the book to my iPad and iPhone just in case I finished the books that I was carrying and needed something else to read.

After reading three ebooks in 2012, this is the first ebook that I have read in almost year. I read most of the book in the kindle app on my iPad. While it seems like a poor form factor for reading, I liked having the book in Kindle on my iPhone so I could read when I was sitting somewhere and killing time. I still love paper books...

Set a couple hundred years in the future, humans have died off and the solar system in populated by the robots that they created. The robots come in all shapes and sizes. The story is told from the perspective of a robot that was originally created to be a human concubine. At its heart, the book is a spy and espionage tale.

There are two aspects of the book that I found interesting. First, the story provides a tour of the solar system. It moves from Venus to Mars to Mercury to one of the moons of Jupiter to the Kuiper Belt. The descriptions of the environment of each stop and how they are settled is compelling.

Second, the book suggests an odd method for creating intelligent robots. It suggests that the only way humans could figure out how to create artificial intelligence was to duplicate the structure of the brain electronically and then raise the robots like children. Once they had raised and trained the "children," they could copy the template and duplicate it in other robots.

While it has a couple of thought-provoking ideas, the pacing of the plot and the resolution of the book leave something to be desired. About 80% through the book, I was losing interest although it picked up a bit towards the end. The story is billed as a throwback novel in homage to Asimov and Heinlein. I was frankly surprised that it was nominated for the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Novel. At best, I give the book a B- and suggest that there are better books in which to invest your time.

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