Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Review: Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross

Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross
Published: Ace Books, 2013
Series: Book 2 of Saturn’s Children Series
Awards Nominated: John W. Campbell Memorial Award, Hugo Award, Locus SF Award

The Book:

Krina Alizond is a metahuman in a universe where the last natural humans became extinct five thousand years ago. When her sister goes missing, she embarks on a daring voyage across the star systems to find her, travelling to her last known location - the mysterious water-world of Shin-Tethys.

In a universe with no faster-than-light travel, that's a dangerous journey, made all the more perilous by the arrival of an assassin on Krina's tail, by the 'privateers' chasing her sister's life insurance policy and by growing signs that the disappearance is linked to one of the biggest financial scams in the known universe.” ~Goodreads.com

I have read a fair amount of Charles Stross’s fiction, though this is the first novel of his that I’m reviewing on my blog.  I have mostly read his short fiction, and Accelerando as serialized in the Asimov’s magazine.  Stross had a pretty good year at the Hugo’s recently, winning a rocket for his novella Equoid and placing second for best novel with Neptune’s Brood.  Neptune’s Brood is a sequel to Saturn’s Children (set 5000 years before), but I did not feel like I was missing anything for not having read the previous novel.

My Thoughts:

If you’re a person that enjoys thinking about what kind of economic systems might develop in an interstellar post-human society that doesn’t have faster-than-light travel, this book is probably just the one for you.  Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people, and economics really is the heart and driving force of this entire novel.  The amount of thought that went into the system is impressive, and it was neat how the framework of the system shaped how society was capable of developing.  For instance, interstellar spaceships are a massively expensive undertaking, so all colonies start in debt and it’s unheard of for someone to waste that amount of capital on something like a warship. 

Since the economics were so complex, though, the story was interspersed with entire sections that were basically conversational lectures.  I was not really a fan of these infodumps, since they tended to repeat themselves for emphasis, and they slowed down the story to the point where it felt a little stretched out.  On the other hand, I think that the information really was necessary for understanding everything that was happening.  The story follows, Krina, an accounting historian on a study-pilgrimage, who specializes in researching financial fraud.  She starts out the story on a relatively simple quest to find her missing sister, but her story ends up revolving around the investigation of a massive, long-hidden fraud that could change her life.   

The absurdly comical situations in the story and Krina’s distinctive narration help propel things along, even through all the explanations.  After all, this is a far-future sci-fi story that manages to include bat insurance underwriter pirates, mermaids, and a spaceship cathedral manned by remote-controlled skeletons, among other things.  Krina’s personality balances the silliness by being amusingly prim and proper. For a quick taste of the narrative style, here’s Krina’s view of her situation:

“People behave very oddly when the ownership of large quantities of money is at stake.  Some—as we have seen—will commit murder or send out shape-shifting zombie assassins. I am not that ruthless.  However, here I am, running around into the cold and unwelcoming universe at large, having adventures—something I loathe and fear…”  ~p.111

I personally enjoyed the book’s sense of humor, and definitely laughed more than a few times.  However, there were also a lot of pop culture references (Pride & Prejudice, Star Wars, etc.) that seemed out of place in a distant-future post-human universe.  The ending also seemed rushed, though I liked how things turned out.  Altogether, I enjoyed reading Neptune’s Brood, though I think that it would be better appreciated by someone with an interest in economics.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Neptune’s Brood is a story of far-future finance, following a historian’s unfortunately adventuresome investigation into her clone-sister’s disappearance and a long-hidden fraud.  I liked the style of the novel’s humor, though I was not a huge fan of the many economics infodumps that came interspersed with the story.  The interstellar economic system is thoroughly imagined, and its workings are integral to the plot.  I think readers more interested in this aspect would probably appreciate Neptune’s Brood more than I did, but I still found it to be a pretty enjoyable novel.

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