Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review: Sea of Rust by C.Robert Cargill

Sea of Rust by C.Robert Cargill

hardcover, 384 pages

Published September 5th 2017 by Harper Voyager

This is the first novel I have read by C.Robert Cargill but I am certainly familiar with his writing. I discovered this book while browsing the new releases at my favorite local bookstore Mysterious Galaxy. I knew Cargill's work under the Aint It News Pseudonym Massawyrm. I also of course seen his films Sinister and Dr.Strange. I was sold when the book was described on the back as a "Post Apocalyptic Robot Western." I knew if he could deliver on that promise we had seriously cool story on our hands. Some of the marketing did however have me scratching my head. The publisher called it a twist on the Martian, which makes zero sense. Specifically considering Post apoc robot western sounds way better.

This novel takes place in a world that is fifteen years beyond the death of the last human being. After a brutal war fought between humans and five major AI mainframes. In the aftermath the mainframes are fighting for control of the earth. Our point of view character is a former service robot named Brittle. Many of the service robots identify with genders as they were set up to interface that before the fall. Brittle is now a scavenger searching the barren landscape that had once been the American midwest.

Brittle has to find parts to keep operating, and the struggle becomes harder when a competing robot attempts to kill her, and worse one of the mainframes is targeting her for assimilation. If that was not enough she meets a robot with a important secret the attention of the mainframe may not be a coincident.

Sea of Rust is a bold as hell concept for a science fiction novel, and it comes with it many, many narrative challenges. Cargill is clearly a very serious writer who takes great care with every minor detail. In a novel like this the story requires master level world building. Cargill nails almost all of it. From the history of the great war and how that history unfolds in the selective memories of Brittle, to the post human landscape and the fact that robots would never use things like smell,taste feelings of the like.

Is it perfect? No but pretty close and that is saying something because of the challenge. Cargill did break a major rule of science fiction by including entire chapters of info-dumps. These were found in alternating chapters within the first act of the book. Normally this is a big No-no in sci-fi but it worked for me. as these chapters progressed they tied more into the narrative by connecting to Brittle's story. There were a few times in the third act where I felt the robots were acting a bit too human. It was easy as a reader to forget these are machines and as an author myself I understood the challenge Cargill had. He had to walk a fine line telling a story about machines to consumers who are human. That is a narrative magic trick.

Overall I think Cargill did a amazing job with the world building and it is no small narrative feet to make a story with all machine characters feel visceral and relentless. One of the best science fiction novels I read this year. Now I am going to have to go back and read his other novels.

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