On My Bookshelf: Neptune’s Brood

neptures broodThe last two sf novels I read were from Scottish authors. This seems to be a pattern. This one was too. Well, Leeds in origin, but Scotland now in residency.

There’s a sub-genre of military science fiction that draws and keeps a lot of fans. I mention it because Charles Stross seems to be off on his own sub-genre, economic science fiction. (Check his series, the Merchant Princes.) So some of the elements of his economics rang familiar.

There’s a strong undercurrent of economics in Neptune’s Brood. The main science fiction premise, however, is that robots have superceded human beings in evolutionary development. Human beings are extinct, again, and robots of the seventieth-something century have colonized the star systems close to Earth.

Mr Stross draws on up-to-date knowledge about real exoplanet systems and some speculative geophysics to create an otherworldly setting for economic intrigue. This intrigue depends on a system of loaning resources so that new colonies can be established and the human (the robots call themselves human–biological humans are called “Fragiles”) reach can extend farther from ancient Earth.

The main character, Krina, is on the trail of a 2,000 year-old swindle and she has some bad people after her. Some turn out to be allies. And some close family members go to great lengths to alienate her. And things get worse on the family front before it all ends.

About halfway through the book the main plot unfolds and the reader is brought up to speed on what Krina knows and suspects. Up to that point, she’s on the run from a stalker, gets kidnapped, arrested, and kidnapped again. I guess she figures that it’s time to tell the reader what’s going on. Then the action kicks up a notch.

Sometimes in a book, the main character isn’t a person as much as an idea. This is true more often in science fiction than in any other genre. In Neptune’s Brood, the bad guys are economic oppression, conspiracy, and fraud. Torture, too. The good guys are the impulses of freedom, information, and  clever ingenuity. Mr Stross clearly favors the triumph of smart underdogs against the burly overlords. How he does it unfolds nicely. And on the way, we get space pirates, undersea adventures (with mermaids and squids), and a rather boring space battle (but the boring is part of the plot).

In some ways, this is a veiled allegory of early 21st century Earth and economic exploitation we suffer at the hands of big banks and other corporations. It doesn’t get too preachy. But there are a lot of info dumps,* up until halfway through the book. When Mr Stross stopped with them, he had given me all the info I needed. Then I could enjoy this novel as a “Trust No One” thriller.

This is a competently written novel. Comparing to recent reads, a good bit better than Banks, and maybe a smidgen below MacLeod. Like the latter, this author can write intrigue and deception. The economic preaching drops this book from very good to good.

* Info dumps in science fiction are longish narratives that give the reader important information the author can’t or didn’t divulge through ordinary writing methods, primarily showing not telling.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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