Sea Of Rust
Mankind was dead, to begin with there is no doubt whatever about that. I paraphrase Charles Dickens there in his opening to that other great science fiction & Fantasy novel A Christmas Carol and there are few better ways to begin a review of such a very modern book. A book that details the ongoing conflict between two warring AIs which have already taken the whole of mankind off the board in the seemingly endless game of existence. Turns out to be a finite one after all for poor old us.
Oh yes, there is no doubt, we are gone. At least in the physical sense. We do however feel terribly present in the very human consciousness and actions of the man-made creations who doomed us, and who continue to exist without us. “Droids creating droids, how perverse” was surely one of the silliest comments the Mercurial C3P0 ever said while he was watching an assembly line of robots building robots; what else was going to produce them in army-scale quantities?
The recorded internal monologue and observations of the main character in Sea Of Rust would incline one to believe one was following the adventures of a human being, if one were not told otherwise. For the character, Brittle, is one of the most human characters I have found in a science fiction book for quite-some time. The fact that she is also referred to as a “she” also serves to broaden the idea of gender in a post genital world. Hmmm, that is an expression I would never have thought I would have a use for.
Mankind is gone, undone by hubris and out-evolved by the very things we had created to improve the qualities of our own lives. Brittle does not ruminate on such metaphysical matters, she is more preoccupied in the search for spare parts. She scavenges in a deserted landscape of a fallen civilization and poisoned cities to find the mechanisms to keep her hand-made heart ticking. It is an endless search with diminishing returns and is the only aspect of our non-existence that the fully sentient and free robots of Earth miss about us.
The book is in parts Damnation Alley and Cursed Earth; there is a touch of Kurosawa also, and this fantastic slice of modern science fiction, and it does feel like that, rather than the casual science fantasy of some similar works, retains enough awareness of its cool pulp origins to be a very exciting page-turner. Which I suppose every book is by the very nature of its facility; how else are we to progress through it. In fairness though some books are more compelling than others, and even in the absence, and perhaps more so because of the absence, of human protagonists one should not abandon the need for an unfolding linear narrative in a heady mix of scheming AIs and merciless killing machines.
Not to mention a form of robot heroics that is as enthralling as it is chillingly sobering.