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Literature: Saturn's Children
Some Stross fans were not pleased about the possibility of being seen with this in public.

Saturn's Children: A Space Opera is a science fiction novel by Charles Stross about the adventures of a Sex Bot in a world where humans (and thus her reason for being) are extinct.

Though not an overt comedy, the novel very clearly has its tongue firmly wedged in its cheek. It lies somewhere on the border between an homage to, and a parody of, Golden Age SF planetary adventure stories, and especially, the works of Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, to whom the book is dedicated.

By the 23rd century, Mankind has become extinct, leaving the intelligent, autonomous robots he created to carry on as best they can. Independent and self-sustaining, the robots struggle to find a purpose in their "lives". Freya Nakamichi was created to be a Sex Bot, and she's now a free woman, but in the hierarchy of robots, her tribe's rank is low, and her primary skill set is not much in demand, so she's forced to take whatever jobs she can find.

While visiting a pleasure palace on Venus, Freya gets into a scuffle with some high-ranking robots, and manages to seriously offend one (having your head ripped off can be annoying). With Venus getting too hot for her, Freya is thankful to find a courier job that will take her off planet. Unfortunately, the package she's been hired to carry turns out to contain an explosive secret that many robots would kill to possess, or die to destroy; Freya's in bigger trouble than ever.

The first edition's US cover was quite controversial—to the point that Stross himself posted on his blog, saying, essentially, "I'm sorry, it's not my fault". Technically, it's probably a fairly realistic depiction of the protagonist. If anything, it may downplay her overt sexiness. However, it does tend to give people the wrong idea about the book...and possibly, the reader. (It also looks like exaggerated parody of the cover to Friday, which is appropriate.)

Has a sequel, Neptune's Brood, set 5,000 years later.

Provides examples of:

  • After the End: The novel explores a Solar System inhabited only by robots centuries after the mysterious extinction of humanity.
  • Ascended Fridge Horror: Freya was programmed to be overwhelmed by lust at the mere sight of Homo sapiens—how, you may ask, do you condition a robot to behave in such away? Later on in the novel, we find out that Freya's long-dead designers did so by inflicting traumatic sexual abuse on her during her "adolescence".
  • Cloning Blues: In a robotic version, the protagonist is a sexbot who describes how she, and other AIs similar to herself are created. AI's with human level intelligence take as long as a human would to develop, so no instant AI, with one loophole: an AI can be duplicated easily. The standard procedure for artificial beings like her was to raise one prototype as desired than clone the AI into identical bodies.
  • Flat Earth Atheist: Most robots, based on design schematics and such, believe that they were created by human beings. A few, however, believe in the holy doctrine of Evolution, and its prophets Darwin, Dawkins, and Gould.
  • Ghost Memory: The robotic beings can obtain the memories of their sibs (other individuals of the same model) by putting in the sib's "soul chip".
  • Grey Goo: Neatly inverted—robots think of organic life as "pink goo," reproducing without limit.
  • Heart Drive: Most robots have a personality chip to backup their memories/personalities. This can be used to keep them alive by transferring their mind to another body or to learn from dead "siblings." "Wearing" the chip of another robot for too long however can lead to their personality usurping the original owner's and as a back up can take months or years to be fully complete destroying another robot's personality chip is a good way of ensuring they behave themselves.
  • Humanity's Wake: The story is about humanoid robots living in the wake of humanity's demise.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: Humanity died out long ago and left behind a race of intelligent robots that took its place. The book deals with a plot by a consortium of wealthy robots who are trying to recreate a living human, which could have cataclysmic effects on robot society because obedience to humans is still hard-coded into their programming. A military organization called the "Pink Police" is dedicated to ensuring that something like this never happens.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: At the end, we learn that the book we have just read is a message Freya is about to send back to her sisters on Earth, to warn them that their supposedly long-dead mother Rhea is still alive and dangerously insane.
  • Mercurial Base: There is a city on Mercury that's mounted on tracks that stretch around the planet, and which follows the terminator to avoid getting too hot or too cold. The protagonist's enemies tie her to the tracks and leave her for dead.
  • My Eyes Are Leaking: The sexbot protagonist is alarmed for a moment when her vision becomes blurred and she registers saline leakage; a surprisingly non-functional response to emotions programmed into her by her long-extinct creators.
  • Non-Indicative Title: While the plot takes place on several different planets and moons in the solar system, Saturn isn't one of them, and there are no children, as such, in the story.
  • Not Using the Z Word: The novel justifies this in regard to its robots—the actual term "robot" is considered a Fantastic Slur.
  • Personality Chip: Robots have "soul chips", which contain not their personalities, per se, but a recording of their experiences and thoughts, so if one were to wear someone else's soul chip, one to some extent wears that other robot's personality as well.
  • Planet of Steves: The main character is 'instantiated' from a line of robots, whom all have the same body and wake up believing they are the original bot, Rhea. They avert this by taking individual names. However, she then encounters The Jeeves Corporation, run by a line whom all refer to themselves as Jeeves. Later on, a specific Jeeves is referred to as "Reginald"; fans of Wodehouse won't find this helps the confusion much.
  • Plot Coupon: Lampshaded via pun:
    "Don't get cute." He grinds the gun barrel against the back of my neck. "The encapsulated bird your conspirators sent you to fetch. The sterilized male chicken with the Creator DNA sequences. The plot capon. Where is it?"
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Justified. The (extinct) "Creators" never figured out how to program self-aware AIs from scratch. Instead they just copied the way human brains work. And then you find out how they did it...
  • Robot Girl: The protagonist. A Robot Girl Sex Slave no less, in a universe where humans no longer exist.
  • Robot Religion: Played for Laughs. Some robots have examined all the relevant scientific evidence and concluded that robots were intelligently designed by a creator. Others fervently believe that robots evolved from simpler forms by means of natural selection, as described in their holy text: Darwin's Origin of Species...
  • Robots Enslaving Robots: The book is all about this trope. One of the protagonist's main worries (everyone in the book is an AI of one sort or another) is ensuring that she always has enough credit in the bank to ensure that she never becomes another AI's property.
  • Sex Bot: The protagonist is a sexbot in a world where humanity is extinct, making her existence almost pointless.
  • Shout-Out: In addition to numerous Shout Outs to Robert A. Heinlein, the book has a McGuffin disguised as a statue of a black bird and an organisation of robot butlers who are all called Jeeves one of whom has taken the name "Reginald"; Jeeves's first name in the books.
    • In Neptune's Brood, there is a pirate crew who call themselves The Permanent Crimson, and who turn out to be unusually aggressive insurance underwriters.
  • Space Elevator: Mars has one giant space elevator called Bifrost.
  • Starfish Robots: After the demise of humanity those robots least attached to their creators have formed the new aristocracy, and the Sex Bot protagonist is despised for her Deceptively Human Robot appearance. Most other robots have a more practical appearance for living and working in outer space or other planets.
  • Take That: While it's mostly Affectionate Parody, there's a few swipes at Heinlein as well; Word of God is that the first impetus for the creation of Freya was to ask why anyone's nipples would go "Spung!", and there's two seperate swipes at the "specialisation is for insects" line - at one point Freya notes she can't do most of the things Heinlein's Renaissance Man can do; as a generalist, her main ability is to find a specialist who can do them for her, and the colony ship requires lots and lots of specialists, and a few generalists to cover everything else.
  • Three Laws Compliant: The robots were all basically created this way—in fact, the book quotes the three laws right at the beginning. However, with mankind extinct, the first law doesn't apply so much any more. In fact, the possibility of the first law complicating their lives is why some robots are so thoroughly opposed to the thought of trying to bring man back using genetic records and the like.
    • It's a bit of a Deconstructed Trope: because the robots were created by mapping human neural nets, the first two laws have to be imposed afterwards. The methods used to do this are not pleasant.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Mankind is extinct, but the robots he created are still around, and still debating what rules apply to them.
  • What Would X Do?: When Freya is posing as an the Honorable Katherine Sorico, she has to keep asking herself "WWtHKSd?"

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