Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
Publication date: 07 September 2017
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
Sea of Rust first drew my eye because it has one of the most stunning covers I’ve seen this year, and we’ve established here before that I am incredibly shallow when it comes to my books. I was delighted by the description — it sounded so incredibly Asimovian and old-school sci-fi that I had to take a chance.
It is thirty years since the humans lost their war with the artificial intelligences that were once their slaves. Not one human remains. But as the dust settled from our extinction there was no easy peace between the robots that survived. Instead, the two massively powerful artificially intelligent supercomputers that lead them to victory now vie for control of the bots that remain, assimilating them into enormous networks called One World Intelligences (OWIs), absorbing their memories and turning them into mere extensions of the whole. Now the remaining freebots wander wastelands that were once warzones, picking the carcasses of the lost for the precious dwindling supply of parts they need to survive.
BRITTLE started out her life playing nurse to a dying man, purchased in truth instead to look after the man’s widow upon his death. But then war came and Brittle was forced to choose between the woman she swore to protect and potential oblivion at the hands of rising anti-AI sentiment. Thirty years later, her choice still haunts her. Now she spends her days in the harshest of the wastelands, known as the Sea of Rust, cannibalizing the walking dead – robots only hours away from total shutdown – looking for parts to trade for those she needs to keep going.*
I was incredibly surprised and delighted by Sea of Rust. It is less Asimov and more Firefly with robots, which honestly is so much cooler. It is a new kind of dystopian fiction compared to the books that are popular right now — humankind has been wiped off the face of the planet by our own creations, and now robots struggle to survive against enemies within their own kind. Massive hive mind mainframes are at war with each other while individual AI’s struggle to maintain their individuality and scrape out an existence in a post-war wasteland. Everything from the setting to the characters, the AI and their back story, was a breath of fresh air. I absolutely loved the back and forth between Brittle’s present and her past. The history behind the development of AI to the war that led to the downfall of humanity was artfully done. I wasn’t disappointed when the timeline shifted between the past and present, and Cargill managed to strike the perfect balance between necessary background info and action.
Although it is a bleak look into our own potential future, the world building was astonishing. The world and society that Cargill creates is both bleak and fascinating. A mix between the old west and the not-so-distant-future, AI’s live and interact within underground cities in order to hide from the dominating mainframes. The world and language these bots use are evocative of the old west. Their society runs not necessarily on currency but on parts — as humans become more of a distant memory, new parts are no longer manufactured and therefore harder and harder to come by. Untouched shops and factories have become a thing of legend, while bots hide stashes of parts across the Sea. Although gender doesn’t play a role in the book, I particularly liked the fact that the robots are in fact gendered. I have seen this rub some reviewers the wrong way, but honestly it’s a cool concept and adds a unique level of humanity to them.
Brittle is a great character. Her action toe the line between survival and cruel manipulation — other bots are wary of her and frequently call her out on her actions. She is scavenger, who takes parts of the nearly dead, rather than a poacher, who hunts down other bots, but that line is blurred. Her strong survival instinct has carried her far as the world continues to crumble around her. She’s not the most outwardly likable character — she’s harsh, crude, and manipulative — but you cannot help but root for her throughout the story. Her relationship with Merc, the Doc, and other bots gives great insight into the person she presents to the world versus who she truly is on the inside. She’s deep and complex and absolutely compelling. As we are with her the entire time — the story is told in the first person from her perspective — we get to know her the best and truly see this fascinating world through her eyes.
Sea of Rust is a fantastic read for anyone looking to get into science fiction or for more experienced readers of the genre. It combines elements of the old West and a dystopian future to create a fast paced, utterly compelling read.
Have you read Sea of Rust? Is this a book you’d be interested in? Let me know!
*Copy courtesy of Goodreads. The gender was changed on the copy here, because Goodreads mistakenly lists Brittle as male.