This book is amazing and I’m frankly pissed that I took so long to read it. My thoughts have been racing for the past couple days just thinking through all of the concepts put forward. It’s a brilliantly realized future (albeit dark and absent of humans), but everything is so well presented that I’m just in awe.
SEA OF RUST
C. Robert Cargill
Harper Voyager, 2017
Looter robot trying to make it in a world absent of humans. Gets shot. Decides to help out a worthy cause that could change the world. On the run from a sentient overlord. Lots of fighting, lots of crazy-ass robots, all for a noble cause.
WHY I LOVED IT
A DARK HISTORY
It’s a dark future where humanity has been wiped out by robots. Actually wiped out, not the “just kidding, there are humans hiding in the sewers and they’ll take the world back now” kind of wiped out. Robots won. Sucks to be human. It was a truly brutal past, especially for the main character who fought in the war first-hand. The author did a great job of weaving the past into the present story, giving a very detailed history without it seeming like an information dump. We got to see how people interacted with robots, how they were created in the first place, how the war began, and how it ended. Tidbits were sprinkled throughout most of the book, keeping my drive to know more alive until the very end.
A FLAWED PROTAGONIST
I was a fan of Brittle, the scavenger who is ruthless when she needs to be and is always looking out for her own ass. Unsurprisingly, she’s a completely flawed narrator. At first, you think she’s one of the good guys, until she cons another robot and tears out its parts within the first ten pages of the book. It remains difficult to reconcile following this character through her journey, and each time, when you think she’s not all that bad, we learn something else horrible about her past. There’s a deep conversation here on what a being will do to survive and the answer is pretty much anything, no matter how shocking. The author didn’t hold back – everything was on the table for Brittle, she did horrible things, she ended the lives of a lot of robots to keep surviving, and she doesn’t really show any remorse for it. She’s not evil, she’s just down in the muck trying to keep going. It’s a very interesting approach.
The short conversation about gendering robots and why Brittle is called “she” is an important addition in my opinion. I’ve always found it funny when authors immediately gender robots who have no need of it. In this instance, it’s a holdover from humanity who couldn’t handle not gendering something. Go figure.
AN ECCENTRIC SUPPORTING CAST
This was where the book truly shined. Every chapter had some new, crazy character that was so interesting to know. The eccentric, oversized bot who makes artwork out of the leftover body parts of his dead friends. The murder machine with machine guns built into his arms who is the epitome of the phrase ‘Merica (his name is actually Murka). The killing machine chasing after Brittle who’s actually obsessed with dogs and puppies. The psychopath Cheshire King who tore off his own head and now rules over a group of mis-matched, crazy robots. Every one of them was on point. LOVED IT.
This was a fully realized world with an interconnected history of machinery that was very important to the story. They weren’t just robots taking over humanity. The robots had a history that was presented step by step, showing how this came to be. You could take it as a cautionary tale of what not to do as it all seemed so plausible during the presentation. The author invented robots for every purpose – building, companionship, medical professions, soldiers, sexbots (who present a hilarious stand in the final chapters). In doing so, he’s created a diverse world of robots that very much mirrors humanity.
The book dives deep into what it means to be a robot. What’s the point and how do they feel about their own existence? What is a soul and do robots have them? Do individual robot lives matter, or should they all just combine into one massive super-robot and take over the universe? It creates an interesting view on the meaning of life by forcing you to see the characters as people instead of machines. As a human, we might think of them as just manmade objects, but with consciousness, aren’t they the same as us? The narrative forces us to question basic tenets of humanity. To me, that’s the brilliance of a great robot story.