Sea of Rust (Book Review)
by C. Robert Cargill
2017 Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic
5 / 5 Stars
I read this as an audiobook on Audible. The narrator did a fantastic job.
A well-paced, exciting, interesting story following a morally gray protagonist, Sea of Rust is at times sad, at times funny, and entirely entertaining. I loved it.
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 led 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 care for and potential oblivion. 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.
Given we have so many novels and movies about a robot uprising [skynet anyone], it was cool to see it take place years later after humans are indeed gone.
In terms of world-building, I didn’t particularly enjoy the large info-dump at the start, but I’m not sure how else it could have been incorporated. So much of Brittle’s personality and journey is wrapped up in memories of these past events coming back during moments of high tension that had she stopped the action to give us the long story then, it would have taken away from the action or emotional resonance of the moment. As such, I accept the info-dump as necessary.
Likewise, I enjoyed how questions that were bugging me - like why the robots had gender - were answered later on in the story.
I loved the characters. Brittle was fantastic because she’s the epitome of the morally gray heroine. She is tough, determined, and skilled, yet she also has some real demons in her past. She acted in character for the entire story and I absolutely loved following her.
The other characters were so much fun, Mercer (heart eyes from me - I love a sniper with a soft heart) and Merca were my favourites, but Cargill did a great job playing all the characters off of one another. A few critiques of a novel discuss how they didn’t like that the robots acted and thought like humans, but I didn’t have that response. I very much enjoyed this aspect, as it helped us relate to them, and it made sense to me that they “thought” like humans because they were created by us. Of course, we would design their psyches, for lack of a better term, in a way that mimicked ours.
I was also very glad the story didn’t turn into a “we found a live human, let’s save them” story, which is where I assumed it would go. This is very much a real apocalypse where everyone is dead.
I enjoyed the small existential questions here and there, like when Brittle debates whether the AIs have free will or are slaves to their programming, and what that even means.
The battle scenes, especially the first at the mall, were exciting, fun, and well-described, and the few moments of tenderness helped balance it out. The novel is also funny too - sometimes in a dark way, sometimes just a little drop of absurdity here and there. It really resonated with me. I laughed a lot. I’m going to buy it in paperback.
I recommend it to anyone who likes post-apocalyptic wastelands, robot apocalypses, and fans of stories where AIso are almost indistinguishable from humans.