Book #95: Neptune’s Brood (2013)

neptunesbroodAuthor: Charles Stross
Language: English
Length: 338 pages
Finished reading on: 4 December 2015

I’ve seen the name of Charles Stross a few times on sci fi recommendations lists (and apparently he lives in my hometown, so I have a kind of parochial self-interest), so I thought I’d finally try out one of his books sometime last year – I should perhaps be clear that I don’t know when this was, because it took me a long time to read the book. I only finished in in December.

I relish a challenge, so the higher level of vocabulary in this book than I’m used to pleased me at first, but it became clear later on that many of the words are invented for the purpose of explaining some of the weird concepts that the book employs – a lot of which would have simple equivalents that the author could have used instead.

The book is an ideas book first and foremost, and the plot itself takes some time to pick up steam. I found it only managed a sense of tension in the third act or so, but the twists and unreliable narrator aspect made this worth waiting for in the end.

The concept of the book is a humanity that has conquered the stars, but it’s not actually humanity as we know it anymore – the people in the novel’s universe are actually sophisticated androids. The economic system is the cornerstone of their universe and the primary interest of the main character, so the book spends a lot of time discussing that. One key idea is that of fast, medium and slow money – essentially, cash, bonds and investments, and the new concept of a secure crypto-currency used to invest in star colonies, that by its very nature would take a long time to process and see any return. One “slow dollar” seems to be worth millions of “fast dollars”.

This permeates down to the very lowest levels of this hypercapitalistic society – the cells of each android’s body, described with one of Stross’s creative coinages with a “nano” prefix, are described as having to be individually convinced of the economic benefit of forming together into a human body. It doesn’t sound like a very appealing world to me, to be honest – the other thing is that these humans eat some kind of reconstituted protein sludge instead of actual food.

Stross is then very good at exploring the ramifications of such a world – like people becoming bloodthirsty zombies when they go into a kind of starvation mode, and some of the things that these post-humans can do. But this all serves as an alienation device for me, especially when he describes normal processes like eating and excretion with overly pseudo-scientific babble. Similarly, the main character was a little difficult to relate to, because she doesn’t have strong emotions about many things.

I liked this enough to want to try more of Stross’s novels – but I’m not sure I’d recommend it outright. As I said, it’s a bit dry, and the plot’s direction is unclear. I’m a bit of a sucker for half-decent sci fi, though. (And it has female characters, unusually for the genre!)

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