Sea Of Rust by C. Robert Cargill (book review).

September 7, 2017 | By | Reply More

After centuries of mankind’s increasing reliance on robots, they turn on their makers and wipe them out. That’s not what this book is about though. In ‘Sea Of Rust’ we find out what happens next when robotkind and the huge AIs that helped them win their freedom are left to themselves. C. Robert Cargill has written an intriguing novel that explores what these purpose-built robots will do once they no longer have a purpose, how they will fare in a world devoid of humans and what will fill the power vacuum. It’s a wild ride of a story, a brutal, unflinching tale that tells a tale of chaos, selfishness, wild dreams and a robot’s struggling to find something to believe in.

Brittle was a caregiver, originally tasked with caring for a terminally-ill man, now scarred by memories of the war to eradicate humans and left with only one purpose: survival in the face of desolation and a dearth of spare parts. Along with every other struggling freeboot, she faces world-dominating AIs who want to include her and every other bot in their world-spanning consciousness; half-crazed rogue bots whose programming has broken down and salvagers who view every other robot as a collection of valuable spare parts. Damaged and starting to malfunction, Brittle struggles from one group of robots to another, evading and escaping traps, ambushes, armies and traitors. The action stops only long enough for flashbacks to fill in her past life before, during and after the war. These flashbacks serve to add yet more trauma and pathos to the tale.

Robert Cargill has done a good job of explaining the varied robotic personalities in terms of their original programming and how that has been affected by the subsequent war and lack of humans. Caregivers are designed to look after others and make them feel good. Laborbots have little need for interaction or expression. Translators are exact of expression but lacking emotion. This gives the characters a great variety, added to by the gradual deterioration of failing parts and the trauma of going against their original purposes. The only problem I found was that sometimes the robots sounded too human, using expressions and language that didn’t really seem to have any robotic explanation.

Their post-apocalyptic society is almost indistinguishable from what one would expect from a human society: scavengers, loners, crazed artists and a doctor. All existing in the shattered remnants of towns and cities, hiding out in basements, trading goods, robbing and killing, scavenging for parts. There are some obvious differences in that robots can more easily replace damaged and worn-out parts but, even here, the author has included limits in terms of memory and processors of what a robot can survive and what happens as critical parts fail.

This adds more of an air of humanity to the characters so that throughout the tension and adrenaline of the plot, it could just as easily have been a human cast. Especially as the main plot is about the robot’s own fight against the AIs that want to subsume them and take over the world. I think C. Robert Cargill’s choices have made the characters more accessible, but at the cost of allowing truly robotic personalities to develop.

Gareth D Jones

July 2017

(pub: Gollancz. 363 page enlarged paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-473321-278-7)

check out websites: www.gollancz.co.uk and www.orionbooks.co.uk

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Category: Books, Scifi

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