Friday, 24 February 2017

Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross

So, I read this book, and then stress came as we were waiting on a surgery date for a close family member, and then our epileptic cat got sick in a way that turns out to be related to his medication, which causes more stress as we try to adjust it, and then I got sick.

It's been a difficult couple of weeks.

That means that I read this book a couple of weeks ago, and I enjoyed it, but it is not as recent in my memory as books usually are when I sit down to write about them. So I'm going to sit here, rest my fingers on the keys, and see if I can recapture enough of the things I wanted to say back when I read this and before stress and sickness took up a large part of my brainpower.

First of, I didn't realize until I had it out of the library that I had, yet again, managed to pick up a series midway through. I'm trying to get better at that - realizing it earlier and going back to read earlier books rather than diving in around the midpoint. However, it looked like this book, while it existed in the same universe as a previous book, happened about 400 years later. I figured that I could probably managed to muddle along.

So, while I'm sure there are things that perhaps I didn't get because I haven't read Saturn's Children, it never felt like I was reading the second book in a series. It stands very well on its own two feet, and was very readable and enjoyable. Stross has gotten a lot better at allowing us into his prose over the years - I used to have problems, but not with his more recent stuff.

Some of the things that you can see in many of his books are on display here, though. Not least, the fact that this is a science fiction book about banking fraud. And that's not desultory or ancillary - it's the very core of the book. Economic space opera. And you know the weirder thing? It works really, really well.

That may be perhaps because the main character is investigating what may be the newest riff on a con that's as old as humans themselves (and that's saying something, because in this universe, humans have died out at least four separate times. All the characters we know are at least partially robotic, or transhuman, mechanically-composed, whatever nomenclature you want to give.)  And yeah, I'm a sucker for books about cons. Blame Spider Robinson. And then later, blame Scott Lynch.

What is particularly well done here is Stross's ability to give us a world that is VASTLY different from the society in which we live, and yet make it accessible - pointing out differences, but treading neatly the line between too alien and too familiar. I am impressed. Bravo, Stross!

As the indentured (in theory paid off, but her mother doesn't see it that way) clone of a banking megatycoon, the main character is off on an adventure hunting down that hoariest of cons, one that may end up with a payload to truly boggle the mind. (Stross' created economic system that deals with relatively slow interstellar flight is really strong and engrossing.) Of course, that means a lot of people would like to kill, capture, or replace her. And clone or not, she'd kind of like to survive.

I don't want to spoil a whole lot more, but I enjoyed the heck out of this book, and now that I've read enough of his books to get a sense of how Stross' writing has changed and developed over the years, I am more and more eager to read the next books he puts out. This guy is hitting his stride.


  1. A wonderful review as always :) If you do decide to read Saturn's Children, I suggest you read it as an ebook or try to get a UK version as the US version has an embarrassingly hilarious sex-barbie cover that you might not want to look at or read in public :)

  2. Heh: For the life of me, I can't imagine what would be offensive here, or at your review of Accelerando. But I wasn't active at Goodreads back then....