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Neptune's Brood (English Edition) par [Stross, Charles]
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Beacon Departure


“I can get you a cheaper ticket if you let me amputate your legs: I can even take your thighs as a deposit,” said the travel agent. He was clearly trying hard to be helpful: “It’s not as if you’ll need them where you’re going, is it?”

“Is it possible to find a better price by booking me on a different routing?” I asked. “I’m very attached to my limbs.” (Quaint and old–fashioned, that’s me.) “Also,” I hedged, “I don’t have much fast money.” The agent sighed. His two eyes were beautiful: enormous violet photoreceptors that gleamed with a birefringent sheen. “Ms. Alizond. Krina. How can I put this? That could be a problem.” He hesitated for only a moment: “Do you have any longer–term funds? Anything you can convert . . . ?”

I shook my head. “I only got here ten days—sorry, about a million seconds—ago, and I haven’t had time to cash in any investments. I need to get to Shin–Tethys as fast as possible.”

He looked pained. It was a warning sign I recognized well—he was on the cusp of deciding that I was just another penniless refugee, and any moment now he was going to slam down the shutters: Why are you wasting my time? I’d done it myself often enough to recognize the symptoms.

“I converted everything I had into slow money before I emigrated, as viscous as possible,” I said hastily.

At least he didn’t tell me to get out of his office. I could see his cupidity battling his cynicism—is she delusional? Cupidity won, narrowly: “Everything you’ve got is in slow money? Then how have you been eating?”

“Badly.” He’d finally stepped out of role, revealing irrelevant curiosity; that was an opening I could use. Pathos first: “I’ve been sleeping on park benches and eating municipal gash to reduce my outgoings.” (The raw, unprocessed hydrocarbon feedstock is vile but free: the good burghers of Taj Beacon provide it because it’s cheaper than employing police to pacify the lumpen cattle by force.) “What cents I have I can’t afford to up–convert in a hurry.”

“So you’ve gone long? All the way long, everything locked down in slow money? Not even some medium dollars?” His eyes widened very slightly at the hint of cents, plural—which meant I had his full and undivided attention. Gotcha. He smoothly pivoted into oleaginous deference: “But surely you’re aware that as little as a tenth of a slow cent could buy you a month in the most palatial palazzo in—”

“Yes, I’m very much aware of that.” I had my opening. Now I narrowed my eyes and cut back on the vulnerability: I wanted him to want to make me feel I owed him some payback at a future time, not drool all over my wallet in the present. “I don’t want to sell my soul just yet. I really don’t. What I want to do is get to Shin–Tethys with all possible speed, using only fast money, cash in hand. Maybe when I’ve completed my work, and it’s time to head home, I’ll be able to splash out, charter a luxury yacht . . .”

“Oh.” He looked crestfallen. “Well, I’m not sure that’s going to be possible, Sera Alizond. You see, you’re too late.”

“Um?” He appeared to be entirely sincere. This was not what I wanted to hear! What I wanted was for this small–time hustler to go out of his way to get me a quiet unobtrusive berth, in hope of a payoff down the line.

“If you’d incarnated just ten million seconds ago, I had passenger berths down to Shin–Tethys coming out of my ears, going unsold! But we’re past inferior conjunction now, heading toward superior, and you won’t get a straight transfer orbit for love or favors. Your only option is to pay for additional delta vee, and that costs real money. Not to mention that there’s a huge mass penalty. You’d need to charter a capsule specifically for . . .” He trailed off and glanced at my legs again, then did a double take. “Unless . . .” He glanced into his desktop, finger–doodled some questions to an invisible amanuensis: “Please excuse me, I was looking for passenger vessels. It might be possible for me to arrange a working passage for you if you have any appropriate skills.” He paused again, his timing perfect. I couldn’t help but admire his expert manipulation even as I resented it. “You said you came in from, was it Hector? They have Fragiles there, don’t they. Tell me, would you have a problem working with meatsacks?”

“Meat?” I didn’t have to feign surprise. “I don’t think so . . .” I was about to volunteer my profession, but he focused on his desktop again, shutting me out.

“There’s an opening for a ship–hand in the labor–exchange listing.” Into which he was, of course, plugged, the better to earn his commission as a recruiter. “Let me see . . .” He referred to the desktop clipped to the wall beside him. “It’s on board a religious vehicle—a chapel—that’s en route to Shin–Tethys. It’s not exactly a fast liner, but it’s better than a minimum–energy cargo pod. They put in for repairs here because of some sort of technical trouble, and they’ve only just got it sorted out. Let’s see . . . the requirement is for semi– or unskilled labor, but you need to be able to work in standard gravity, and more importantly, be of traditional bodily form, which rules out a lot of people. It’s conditional on your satisfying the sailing master about your piety,” he added by way of a warning. “I can’t help you there. The interview is entirely up to you. They’re supposed to provide training on the job. That’ll be fifty dollars fast, refundable if you don’t get the berth. Assuming you want it and can afford—”

“I do, and I can.” It was cheaper than I could have hoped for, and I had no problem with the idea of a working passage; it would help avoid the tedium of a long–duration flight. Delayed by some sort of problem. Their misfortune: my profit.

I held out a hand and flashed it, allowing the numinous glow of hot cash to light up the chromatophores in the webbing between my fingers. “It’s just the Church of the Fragile, yes? Pious worshippers tending to the holy flesh, keeping it from rotting as they fulfill their mission to the stars?”

“That’s my understanding.” He nodded. “That, and routine cleaning chores. They may be religious, but they’re pragmatists. As long as you’re not heretically inclined . . . ?”

“No, nothing like that!” Tending meat: In all our years, I don’t think any of my lineage has ever done that. But beggars can’t be choosers—not even mendicant scholars masquerading as beggars. We shook on the deal, and his palm flickered red, the escrow lock pulsing rapidly. “I’ll just be going. If you’d maybe tell me where . . . ?”

“Certainly.” He smiled, evidently pleased with himself, then passed me the coordinates. “You want Node Six, Docking Attachment Delta. The Blessed Chapel of Our Lady of the Holy Restriction Endonuclease is parked outside—in quarantine because of the meat. That’s normal in such circumstances, you know. Ask for Deacon Dennett. They will be expecting you.”

What I was unaware of:

I had a stalker.

Most people are autonomes; self–owning, self–directed, conscious. It is the glory and tragedy of autonomes that they experience the joy of self–and the terror of the ultimate dissolution of self into nonexistence at the end of life. You are an autonome: So am I.

The stalker was not an autonome. Despite looking outwardly human and imprinted with a set of human memories, the cortical nodes within its skull were not configured to give rise to a sense of self. The person who sent the stalker believed that consciousness was a liability and a handicap that might impair its ability to fulfill its mission: to hunt down and kill me.

The stalker had a full briefing on me, but didn’t know much about what I was doing in Dojima System, other than the fact of my arrival and its instructions for my disposal.

I later learned that my stalker beamed into Taj Beacon barely a million seconds after I did. We’d both been sent more than a decade earlier, via the beacon in high orbit around GJ 785: Our packet streams overlapped for months as the Taj Beacon buffered and checksummed, decrypted and decompressed, and finally downloaded two neural streams onto soul chips for installation in newly built bodies, paid for by the slow money draft signed and attached at the origin of our transmission. I awakened first, my new body molded to a semblance of my previous phenotype by the configuration metadata attached to the soul transmission. I completed the immigration formalities and left the arrivals hall before the killer opened its eyes.

While I was on Taj Beacon, I was unaware of its existence.

But I found out all too soon.

The travel agent’s office was a fabric bag attached to one of the structural trusses that braced the vast, free–fall souk at the heart of Taj Beacon’s commons. I really hated the souk; having gotten what I went there for, I ran away as fast as I could.

I confess to you that I lied to the travel agent about my assets. When I arrived, almost the first thing I did was to cautiously convert a couple of slow cents into fast money. I did it reluctantly. The best slow–to–fast exchange rate I could find here was usurious—I took a 92–percent hit on the public rate, never mind what a relative would have fronted me—but to up–convert with full and final settlement via the issuing bank would take nearly a billion seconds: It’s not called slow money for nothing. I was not, in fact, sleeping on park benches and subsisting on raw hydrocarbon slurry: But I saw no need to advertise the fact that I had 7.02 slow dollars signed and sealed to my soul chips, and another 208.91 medium dollars at my fingertips. That much money walking around unguarded was an invitation to a mugging or worse.

Taj Beacon is and was the main gateway for information and currency flows entering and leaving Dojima System. It hosts multiple communication lasers, pointed at the star systems with which Dojima trades directly. As commonly happens, the burghers of Taj Beacon have a vested interest in maintaining a choke hold on interstellar commerce. Consequently, they scheme to prevent rival groups from establishing their own beacons. And so it is that, in addition to the high priesthood of financiers and factors who worked the banks and bureaux de change and bourse, the operations managers and engineers who maintained the interstellar communications lasers, and the usual workers you might find on any deep–space habitat, Taj is host to numerous loan sharks, grifters, labor brokers, and slavers.

I was traveling alone, and my only contact in the entire system had gone missing—so to say I was isolated would be an understatement. Under the circumstances, drawing attention to myself by flashing my assets seemed like a really bad idea. I therefore lived cautiously, using anonymous cash to rent a cramped arbeiter’s pod in an unfashionable high–gee zone, going through the public motions of seeking employment, trying to remain inconspicuous—and meanwhile looking for a ship out of this festering sinkhole of villainy.

As for the souk: Some combination of the disorienting lack of local verticalia, the density of bodies, the shouting of offers, the mixture of smells, and the fluctuating hash of electromagnetic noise combined to make me claustrophobic whenever I had to visit an establishment there. But what really got to me was the advertising.

The souk is a public space. Unless you pay up for a pricey privacy filter, every move you make is fodder for a thousand behavioral search engines, which bombard you with stimuli and monitor your autonomic responses in order to dynamically evolve more attractive ads. Images of desire bounce off blank surfaces for your eyes only, ghostly haptic fingertips run across your skin, ghostly lascivious offers beam right inside your ears. Are we getting hotter? Colder? Does this make you feel good? I didn’t want to draw attention to myself by excessive filtering. But I wasn’t used to the naked hard selling: My earlier life hadn’t prepared me for it, and the ads made me feel bilious and love–stricken, invaded and debauched by a coldly mechanical lust for whatever fetish the desire machines were pushing at their victims at any given instant. The mindless persistence with which the adbots attempted to coax the life–money from their targets was disturbing. Though I hadn’t been on Taj long, I had already learned to hate the sensation. The soul–sickening sense of need ebbed and faded from moment to moment as I moved from one hidden persuader’s cell to the next, leaving me feeling vulnerable and friendless.

Alienated? Friend–lorn? Desirous of luxurious foods or eager prostitutes? We can torment and titillate until you pay for sweet release . . .

Beacon stations are the choke points of interstellar trade, positioned to extract value from the slow money of the dissatisfied and the desperate as they pass through the network. Taj Beacon is the worst I’ve ever visited, possibly a holdover from its foundation in the wake of the great Atlantis depression, over two millennia ago: The result is a frenzied vortex of dionysiac capitalism presided over by a grasping, vicious plutocracy, boiling and churning in the frigid wastes on the edge of the star system. All because the beacon lay in the trailing trojan point of the innermost gas giant, between the outer belt and hab colonies and the populated inner system that generated the traffic. Taj’s founders were in the right place at the right time, and they and their descendants took it as a de facto license to seek rent.

Surviving the barrage of ads with my sense of purpose intact and my purse unravished required self–discipline and a willingness to shut down my facial nerves and chromatophores completely—and preferably to shut my eyes and ears as well. Counting features of the ads helped me ignore the content; I kept tally of the products, descriptions, and associated emotional cues as I pushed through, as a tenuous gesture of defiance. (Eleven ads, averaging six iterations per minute, in case you were wondering.) And, after far too long, I managed to make my escape into the civilized low–gee suburbs, then back to my cheap, rented, capsule apartment.

Calling it an apartment is, perhaps, an exaggeration. A cube of nearly thirty meters’ volume, it held my bed (a blood blue cocoon purchased from a thrift store), a couple of changes of clothing suitable for different social contexts, a two–meter retina with a ripped corner that I’d rescued from a recycler and tacked to one wall for visualizations and entertainment, a ready–packed bag in case I had to leave in a hurry, and a crate where I kept my feed. I’d visited worse slums, but not often and never to live there by choice.

On the other hand, there was nothing here to attract the attention of my neighbors. Most of the other residents were laborers or fractional–reserve servants of one variety or another: poor but sufficiently respectable not to attract the attention of the secret police. (Not that the SPs cared about anything except direct threats of sedition or subversion that might impair their patrons’ ability to keep their salaries flowing. Accept capitalism into your heart, and you were almost certainly safe, except for the occasional unfortunate case of mistaken identity. Yet another reason not to dwell here too long . . .)

I flopped back onto my bed and waved at the retina. “Any mail?” I asked halfheartedly.

“Good evenshift, Krina! I’m sorry, there’s nothing new for you today.” I’d given it an avatar, the facial map and mannerisms of my sib Briony—but left the eyes empty, to remind me there was no person behind them. “A communiqué from your cousin Andrea”—a sib of another generation from mine—“is buffering now and will be complete within two thousand seconds. Price of release is thirty–two fast. Do you wish to accept?”

I swore under my breath—not at the retina, lest it misinterpret. But rent–seeking intermediaries with a monopoly on interstellar commerce would have been a good candidate for the bane of my life had they not also become the source of my income (by a cosmic irony that I no longer found even remotely humorous). In this case, the station’s official receiver had decided that Andrea’s incoming message was inconveniently large, or that the exchange rate since its transmission began (at least twelve years ago, assuming she was still back home) had fluctuated sufficiently to justify levying a supplementary fee. In any event, what was I going to do? I could pay the additional service fee or miss the message. Which might be something as banal as a we’re all missing you, come home safe and soon or as vitally important as word that my entire multiyear mission was pointless, that the long–lost property had been picked up by a rival syndicate.

“Accept and debit my account,” I said aloud. I paused to update my expenses sheet and stared gloomily at the dwindling cash float: Today was turning out to be very costly indeed. “Have there been any more responses to my primary search? ” I asked the retina.

“No new responses!” I winced. I’d spent another chunk of fast money a week ago, buying a broadcast search—not merely of Taj Beacon’s public–information systems, but propagated systemwide—for news of Ana. Who had now been missing for over a hundred days, since shortly after I began to download into the arrival hall’s buffers—a suspicious coincidence, in my view, given that she had lived in the same floating city on Shin–Tethys for over twenty years. “Three archived responses. Do you wish to review them?”

“No.” I had them off by rote memory: One anxious inquiry from an out–of–touch friend of Ana’s (I think an ex–lover); a request for an interview from the local police (doubtless wondering why an out–system visitor was interested in a missing person); and a debt–collection agency wondering who was going to pay the rent on her pod. It was depressing to think how faint the mark she’d left behind must be, that so few people were interested in her disappearance. (Much like me, in fact. Loneliness is our only reliable companion when we fish the well of time for magic coins.) “Download and archive Andrea’s packet in my second slot as soon as it’s available.” A thought struck me. “Transaction with M. Hebert, travel agent: labor–exchange placement. When does it time out?”

“Your offer closes in four thousand four hundred seconds! Placement vessel preparing for departure!” My retina chirped.

What? The agent didn’t tell me it was leaving so soon! I looked around my cube in a momentary panic, then realized there was virtually nothing here that I couldn’t replace easily enough. I grabbed my go bag, already stuffed with a spare change of clothes and a palm–sized retina: “Dump Andrea’s packet into my number two soul chip as soon as you’ve got it, then erase yourself,” I told my sister’s hollow–eyed face on the wall: “I’m out of here for good.”

An hour later, I arrived at a docking node in an old part of the station. It was all grubby metal and delaminating anticorrosion treatments, the lights flickering, ventilation ducts howling mournfully behind rattling panels. Fat umbilical trunks snaked between nodes and across exposed walls, floors, and ceilings, their papery shrouds rippling in the breeze: Odd gelatinous globules hang quivering from leaky pipes, their surfaces fogged and filthy with trapped dust and fluff. There was a marked lack of life in this place, a sense that here the bones of the world were showing through the skin.

I found myself afloat in the middle of a desolate six–way crossroads. It took a few seconds for me to compose myself before the next step. At times like this, I have always been susceptible to a weary, familiar dread. I was on my own here; if Ana was dead (as seemed likely), I was the only one of my kind in this entire star system, and my generation in my lineage is not one that is comfortable with solitary working. I’m a creature of habit and a team player—by design. I’d been up and alive on Taj Beacon for around a million seconds: time enough to develop a routine, even as a near down–and–out in an unfriendly and highly competitive realm.

Revue de presse

“Witty, smart, and more relevant than you’d expect, this is a thoroughly entertaining sci-fi mind-expander from one of the genre’s most reliable imaginations.”—SFX

“A wonderful bouquet of ideas.”—Boing Boing

“The fun part comes from the way Stross devises his robotkind to act as humanity’s successor species—to imagine them not as intellects vast, cool, and unsympathetic but as very much like us, writ not large but as merely durable.”—Locus
“Agreeable characters, a fascinating backdrop and brilliant plotting, with a further outlook of lengthy grins and occasional guffaws.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 1359 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 337 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 0425256774
  • Editeur : Orbit (2 juillet 2013)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B009SQ01BA
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Par martin le 21 août 2013
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Boukin très sympa, valeur sure pour les fans de sf transhumaniste.
Situé dans un univers dérivé de celui de "saturn's children", Charles Stross nous développe une économie de marché intersidéral très intéressante.

A lire :)
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 4.2 étoiles sur 5 191 commentaires
46 internautes sur 46 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Money, fast and slow 5 juillet 2013
Par D. Harris - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle
This book is a follow up (not a sequel) set in the same universe as Stross's earlier Saturn's Children (and for completeness, a short story, "Bit Rot" in the anthology Engineering Infinity fits in between and is mentioned in passing here).

It is several thousand years in the future. Humanity has become extinct - and been recreated - several times. Taking our place is a flourishing society of post-humans, originally robots created to do our bidding (as described in "Saturn's Children"). They are tougher than us, better able to survive the rigours of interplanetary travel and able to be transferred, as software, from one body to another. Yet their design was originally based on ours, and they share all our failings and feelings (subject, of course, to the effects of a tweak here or there to increase empathy or decrease libido - the better to focus on the task in hand).

Krina Alizond and her kind inhabit a society that is enthusiastically colonizing the galaxy, establishing toeholds in remote systems where "beacons" and constructed to which colonists can be "beamed" and downloaded into freshly grown bodies. it's a lucrative trade, financed by massive debt, and Stross goes to some lengths to explain the economic basis of the whole thing. Debt is key here, as the brave new post human world is nakedly capitalist: newly created "persons" are owned by their progenitors until they have paid off the costs of their instantiation; newly founded colonies are also deeply in debt, which they pay off, generally, by founding daughter colonies which are in debt to them.

As I said, the post-humans of Krina's universe inherit our failings, and it's hardly surprising to find fraud, scams and unbridled greed flourishing as part of its financial system. Krina is a historian of such things, a "nun-accountant" on an academic piligrimage who plunges into adventure by accident (well, sort-of). Why is somebody trying to kill here? What's happened to her sister? And what does all this have to do with the failed attempt to establish the "Atlantis" colony, two thousand years before?

This book is a rollicking good read, with a crisp plot and plenty of trademark weirdness - from pirate bats to communist squid via a spacefaring church. You'd think a SF story based on debt and in a universe rigidly bound to slower-than-light travel could drag, but Stross turns both of these features to his advantage, creating something both outlandish and convincing. It's recognisably the same universe as "Saturn's Children" but it has evolved too. And the slightly nerdy heroine, who gets way too deep in something she didn't expect, is also easier to identify with than an all-guns-blazing SF protagonist.

All in all, a brilliant book.
36 internautes sur 41 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Too Funny. Also, It Ingeniously Addresses the FTL Issue. 4 juillet 2013
Par L* - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
I don't usually think of Stross as funny, but this is barkingly funny. I mean, "laugh-out-loud", which is not something one usually associates with science fiction.

This is a slightly insane romp through several different cultures and biospheres; if you are looking for unusual world-building it definitely does not disappoint. Our hero(ine) goes from something that sounds like a hyper-computerized Japan to a floating catacomb to a waterworld, and that's only halfway through the book.

Also, one of the main conceits is that, well, no one has figured out an Alcubierre Drive. There is no ftl, which is what seems to make most current science fiction dated. (If you actually pay attention to real science, we probably can't have ftl, without ripping apart stars for power.) This has a very neat solution to that, which I'll leave to the reader to discover.

Well done.
18 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 An Intellectually Dextrous and Fascinating Look at the Future 9 juillet 2013
Par scott - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle
With Neptune's Brood, Charles Stross has managed the improbable task of making interstellar finance exciting. He also breathes further life into a universe he first introduced us to in "Saturn's Children", exploring the worlds our children, the robots, have created as they colonized the stars--albeit very slowly, usually at about 1% of the speed of light. It is this odd mixture of global (galactic) finance, Ponzi schemes, interstellar settlement, duplicity by all too human robots, and the very real limits the speed of light imposes on all of these things in the year 7000 AD that is the subject matter of this fascinating book.

The tale begins with the story of Krina Alizond, a robot that could well be afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome and forensic accountant extraordinaire, who plans a small adventure to find her sister, rescue a lost financial transaction, and become fabulously wealthy. Of course, very little goes smoothly for Krina, and she ends up being pursued by several factions who would also dearly love to lay their hands on the stupendous fortune of "slow" money she may (or may not) have found. In the process of trying to escape those who would harm her, she ends up working on a flying interstellar church crewed by skeletons, tangling with nearly immortal hereditary rulers of planets, and venturing far beneath the surface of a planetary ocean that naturally spawns super critical nuclear reactions.

But at its heart, this novel is very much a satire. Robots may be artificially created, but they are very human in their desires and frailties. And the interstellar financial model and economy may not superficially resemble our own, but there is no doubt that Stross has the current global financial system firmly in mind as he gently (and sometimes viciously) mocks and satirizes the establishment. As a result, he produces some genuinely funny moments. He also manages a healthy dose or irony and criticism as he looks at how colonization develops, how rule by the powerful is maintained, and the lack of tolerance the majority has for minority cultures that are very different than their own.

As a result, the novel is quite an extraordinary achievement: it manages to stay well within the bounds of currently accepted physics, but present a fascinating interstellar society; and it extracts a surprising amount of mystery and intrigue from the world of accounting and finance--something many people would probably say is just not possible. (Books about double entry book keeping rarely make for anything other than a fine substitute for sleeping pills!) But Stross does pull it off, mostly. The action is lively, the mystery suitably intriguing, and the characters are both intelligent and funny. It is therefore an unlikely success, but unquestionably a success.

The book falls a little short of 5-star territory, if only because the extended descriptions of the financial system, and the differences between fast, medium, and slow money do get a little tedious at times. The narrative flashbacks also feel a little contrived--they exist a little too obviously just to explain the slightly confusing backdrop of accounting and wealth creation against which the plot and mystery unfolds.

However, when measured against other current works, Stross succeeds admirably. I can't help but draw comparisons to two other works. First, "Blue Remembered Earth" which also tackles the subject of how humanity (or its descendants and creations) reach the stars; and second, "Jack Glass" which deals with the economics of space travel and the high cost of accelerating mass to speeds useful to cross stellar and interstellar distances. In both cases, Stross navigates these waters more adroitly than his peers, and pulls off a novel that is satirically hilarious, satisfying as an adventure, full of interesting characters, and extremely entertaining. No small feat that.
14 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Walking a fine line... 23 octobre 2013
Par Harby - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle
First, a little background.

I enjoyed several of the Laundry books, and to this day adore Glasshouse as one of the best novels I've read in many years.

Saturn's Children however, was a haphazard mess. Something broke down roughly at the halfway mark that caused me to start skimming forward and lose faith in Stross' ability to deliver the rest of the story in a coherent and satisfying fashion. Perhaps it was one too many repetitions of "space travel is s***". Or one too many needless recaps at the start of a new chapter (as if the reader only gets through one chapter a week, like a serialised TV show watcher). Or one too many conveniently bad decisions on the part of the protagonist, who is doomed to forever be a cosmic plaything with no agency of her own. Or most likely, one too many instances of "factual" padding, where the true narrative grinds to a resounding halt, giving way to several scenic tours through whatever pop culture buzz-topic of science, computer studies or pseudo philosophy Stross spent long hours discussing at his local pub.

(I've actually started using "Stross" as a verb, i.e. "to Stross" is to pad or derail a conversation with the sort of "too clever by half" observations/condescension that Stross is filling his books with in steadily increasing measures, at the expense of actual plot and characterisation. A sort of light-hearted Pratchett meets Adams meets Stephen Hawking, catering to the hardest of hardcore denizens of the internet and all their transhuman fantasies (and fetishes)).

I sincerely believe something went wrong during the writing of Saturn's Children. Something was rushed, momentum was lost. A deadline grew too close. Stross decided the overall concept was poor and 'phoned in the second half of the book. Something.

As a result of all this, I was expecting Neptune's Brood to take the form of a belated apology - more or less a re-write or revamp of Saturn's Children, sans tangled structure, where Stross could show everyone the story that SC was originally intended to be.

For the most part, I was very pleased to find that this is exactly what Neptune's Brood is.

Yes, it suffers from the same vast quantity of (now almost cliche) padding as his other more recent books - but this time the padding was actually quite entertaining and paced just right to not completely obliterate the true underlying story. Yes, at some points you do feel the desire to shout (Monty Python style) "JUST GET ON WITH IT!" at the book's pages, when an important event is suddenly and unhelpfully bisected by a treatise on the minutiae of sci-fi financing. And yes, once again the comically dim-witted female protagonist's own wishes and designs prove utterly impotent as she spends the entire story ignorant of essentially all facts pertinent to her situation, leaving her a hopeless ragdoll adrift upon oceans of plot and supporting character actions over which she has absolutely no control.

The story is witty and light, always lacking any of the serious tone that the Laundry books occasionally boil down to, but overall it's an engaging enough read to stand as an improvement over Saturn's Children and be read from cover to cover without stalling or skipping the "intellectualised observational comedy" sections in exasperation.

My only real problems with this latest book are (1) the absence of any real expository bridge to account for how the "Post" humans went from being reverential slaves of old "Fragile" humans to thinking of them in the current more rational terms; and (2) the incredibly abrupt ending that begins by promising an "and then reality ensues" epilogue beyond the happily-ever-after moment down in the deep city, but then fails to deliver any comeuppance for the (in my opinion, anyway) clearly criminal protagonist.

So I've rated this one a three, and hope than one day soon Stross will shock us all by producing some monumental work of deep, serious, emotionally-charged genius that will stand like a Lord of the Rings to all his other The Hobbits. He certainly has the talent and experience for it. Everything just needs to be pulled together at once with the jargonese padding training wheels finally removed.
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2.0 étoiles sur 5 I'm normally a fan, but Stross fails resoundingly with this one 22 avril 2015
Par Peter Wake - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
This is certainly the worst Charles Stross book I've come across. While I'm a fan of his other work, and have read most excluding some of the short-stories, this one disappointed me greatly. It's not the worst sci-fi out there, Stross's worst is still better than some author's best. It's especially frustrating because you can see there's the idea of good book in there, but what was produced is not good at all.

Problems start with the plot: a protagonist who is totally devoid of agency bumbles from one unavoidable failure to another until an overly-telegraphed deus ex machina turns everything on its head just in time to serve up a punishment to a ludicrous melodrama villain. The protagonist is faced with Hobson's choice repeatedly, and the outcome is always simply surviving until the next random indignity is inflicted on her.

This and 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' are both stories about investigating an old crime, but they couldn't be more different. The core mystery here isn't really necessary at all and ends up contributing very little to the story beyond baroque justifications for events. This could have been a great investigative novel, or it could have been a fun space-opera adventure, or even a poignant character piece. It's none of those things. Instead, it feels more like a collection of plot notes the author made for a book he couldn't be bothered finishing.

The old adage "show don't tell" is gold in writing and the basic problem here is one the author must have been aware of: too much "tell" and not enough "show". Almost everything is explained in a series of long, rambling, monologues direct to the reader from the protagonist. Often these pointless embellishments are prefaced by the character telling you it's a lie anyway. It's as if the author wants you not to care.

In his condescending monologues about made-up economics, Stross repeats the same things until you become sick of them, and while a lot of what he has to say is based on contemporary computer authentication schemes, it's not interesting fictional reading, and not written in a way that is interesting at all. Neal Stephenson gets away with long digressions about history and science because he makes them interesting; he doesn't talk down to the reader and repeat himself endlessly as Stross does in this book.

There are enough good ideas in this book to have produced something worthy, but at every turn Stross turns gold into lead with his plodding "tell don't show" writing. I don't know why - he's not like this in his other books. How this shambles got past an editor has me at a loss. The more I think about it, the more this book feels half done. Perhaps he rewrote it and then they published the wrong document file...

The main character, who we know only from her repetitive monologues never reveals any of her personality, and seems to lack any interesting formative moment. Things perk up towards the end a bit, but by then it's all far too late, and the highly contrived reversals that pivot on the lazy provision of misinformation to the reader don't surprise or entertain, instead they make you care even less.

The protagonist has enough variety of experiences to make an interesting tale, but the author seems determined to render every one of them dull, weakening every experience he can, adding monotony at every opportunity, and pulling the rug from under the reader with every attempted twist. If only there were actual twists... You'd need see where you were going to feel any sense of surprise, but the only thing you can reliably anticipate is that the protagonist will have her world turned upside down again before any plans or schemes she makes can be executed, and this total lack of agency is not only frustrating but also boring in its relentlessness. We have to believe she has a chance to succeed at an action if we are to invest and care, but the reader soon finds that it's all meaningless; the plot will happen as planned regardless of anything she attempts.

Time and again, scenes and information that had the potential to be riveting if 'shown' dramatically are simply narrated in a dull throw-away manner. I wanted to see episodes from this character's history - her formative experiences with her sibs and the antagonist. Instead we are simply told some sibs are good, mother is bad, and we have to take it on faith. We should be allowed to draw our own conclusions, but we're not.

That we're consistently lied to (and we know it) only makes this more tiresome. We don't catch any real sight of the antagonist until near the end, when she turns out to be a sketchily drawn melodramatic cliche. Yet, the protagonist and antagonist are supposed to be, at their core, the same person. It could have been interesting if any meat had been put on the idea, but it was just another throw-away, left undeveloped so the story could achieve its smug conclusion.

Then there's the issue of the 'female' protagonist, who isn't really female because she's post-human and post-gender. Her 'femaleness' adds nothing to the book, and because its not done well, quite possibly weakens it. As the protagonist's character is essentially a blank-nothing, making her (supposedly) female seems like a lazy attempt to tug at our sympathy when she experiences yet another contrived episode of peril. It feels awkward and false. A different author, Brinn for example, would likely have put in the effort to highlight our understandings of contemporary gender and identity issues by looking at them through the lens of this post human personality. Stross doesn't. Instead, most of this book is the equivalent of tying the heroine to the railroad track. It seems odd because the author conveys the injustice of a patriarchal system with skill in Merchant Princes, but totally drops the ball on gender issues here.

I've loved many Stross books in the past. The Laundry series is excellent, the Merchant Princes a gripping read, Accelerando really is a rush, but this... This is just a plodding, amateurish mess, unworthy of an author who can do much better, and has often done so in the past.

I'd love a sequel to this book that actually developed the protagonist - but only if it were written in a less condescending and more conventional manner; showing, not telling, taking the time to let the reader experience the scenes that matter, only glossing over the ones that don't, and not wasting hundreds of pages on repetitive, patronising, self-indulgent, essays that explain at length what we could have enjoyed working out for ourselves from ongoing events.

The only real mystery in this story is what the personality of the central character is supposed to be. I'd like to see that question resolved, because this book does not address it.
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