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Literature / Neptune's Brood

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Neptune's Brood and its prequel Saturn's Children, are a pair of science fiction novels by Charles Stross, set in a universe where humanity has gone extinct and our robot descendants are the dominant civilization. There is a story, "Bit Rot", which bridges the gap between the two novels. It can be read here.

The story is set some 5000 years after the events of Saturn's Children and follows a mild-mannered "metahuman" named Krina as she searches for her sister on the water world of Shin-Tethys. Along the way she is abducted - then hired - by Space Pirates, stalked by a Doppelgänger assassin, and unravels the complex financial cons that permeate the interstellar economy. All the while she holds her own secrets about the "Atlantis Carnet", the key to either the greatest treasure in the galaxy or its greatest scam.

Provides examples of:

  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Krina is this crossed with Badass Bureaucrat. She searches out the history of financial scams because, due to the nature of slow money and light-speed limitations, they tend to leave a lot of incomplete transactions lying around. The dead money in these transactions is buried treasure waiting to be claimed.
  • And Then What?: Ana invokes this to Krina after they unite the Atlantis Carnet and claim the payout. Ana points out that Krina now has so much money that a tiny fraction of it would keep her in luxury until the heat death of the universe, and when you sit on that kind of money, it owns you as much as you own it. She suggests that Krina found a new colony, like their mother Sondra Alizond once did, and like Ana and the United People's Shoal are doing.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Invoked. Krina presents the Infodump segments in her personal journal, and is expressly doing so in case she fails in her mission and someone else has to come clean up the mess.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Metahumans are composed of "mechanocytes," which are engineered quasi-cells that are somewhere between organic and mechanical, while the brain is composed of mechanocytes but controlled by a digital soul program. This gives them increased strength, endurance and adaptability and allows a certain degree of shapeshifting programming. The body is also managed by an explicit Energy Economy, fuelled by food but capitalized by the cash cost of creating the body, in place of the energy-transfer mechanisms of Fragile humans; should a body's techne (the "bone marrow" that creates more mechanocytes) decide that the body as a whole is unable to acquire enough food to survive, then it declares the body bankrupt, eats the brain and secedes in an every-mechanocyte-for-itself dissolution into goo.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Future transhuman morality is significantly different from what we humans believe in. Children are property (and can be destroyed as such) until and unless they're emancipated, for example. Even metahumans' mechanical biology is based on economic functions, as an extension of their ruthlessly-capitalist social structure.
  • Crapsack World: Only half of Krina's hex of siblings survived to adulthood; the rest were killed by their mother. Advertisements attempt to hijack your mind. Humanity's nearly extinct for the fourth time. This is just the first few pages of the book.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The absence of this drives the setting of the book, as it led to the creation of an entire economic system for funding the spread of new colonies.
  • Fiction 500: Due to the absence of Faster-Than-Light Travel, interstellar warfare is effectively impossible in this setting - such a war would be impossible to fund and could not possibly provide any kind of return on the investment. Nobody told Sondra Alizond that. She personally finances a military fleet to seize the Atlantis Carnet.
  • First-Person Perspective: Switches between this and third person. Generally, the first-person is used when Krina is giving an Infodump, usually as part of the Apocalyptic Log that she keeps in case someone needs to clean up after her.
  • Gambit Pileup: Multistage financial transactions and long cons spread out over thousands of years, that are so big that the side bets have funded entire systems' economies. The prospect of an actual payout drives every faction who hears about it into full-blown crisis mode. And the Carnet isn't even the biggest prize.
  • Going Native: It turns out that Ana, Krina's cousin and the holder of the other half of the Atlantis Carnet, has joined the United People's Shoal and devoted her financial skills to the cause of squid communism.
  • Grey Goo: Stray and escaped "mechanocytes" have started to form a strange new web of life that so far consists mostly of scavengers, and any metahuman damaged to the point of losing sentience either decomposes into its component mechanocytes or becomes a ravening zombie until it consumes enough resources to restore itself.
  • Humanity's Wake: The story is about humanoid robots living in the wake of humanity's demise. Humanity has been resurrected several times by the robots...only to go extinct again.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: This was very much the case in Saturn's Children, but by the time of Neptune's Brood the robots have developed further and no longer have obedience hard-coded. They've resurrected humanity several times but we keep dying out. As such, they refer to us as "The Fragile" and view us with a kind of pity.
  • Infodump: The author tries to avoid this by parceling out information on the nature of the setting's economy in digestible chunks. note 
  • MacGuffin: The Atlantis Carnet. What it is is explained over the course of the book as we learn about the economy of interstellar space, but what it amounts to is a financial instrument worth an entire world's supply of money, so anyone will kill to get it.
  • Planet of Steves: Krina Alizond-114 and her "sisters", who are all clones of their mother Sondra Alizond.
  • Ridiculous Future Inflation: Inverted. One slow dollar equals roughly a hundred man-years of skilled labor; when Krina offers to cash one out, the hotel and bank she wants to deal with immediately rush her into the high-roller lane.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Justified and played with. The (extinct) "Creators" never figured out how to program self-aware A.I.s from scratch. Instead they just copied the way human brains work. On the other hand, the "robots" are advanced mechanical lifeforms with their own kind of biology and cells. The main character basically looks human, but many metahumans take other wildy different forms, such as bats, mermaids, or octopi.
  • Robot Girl: Krina isn't necessarily a "robot" in the usual sense of the word, but she's certainly an artificial person of some sort.
  • Robot Religion: The Church of the Fragile, which is dedicated to fulfilling the robots' original purpose of spreading old-fashioned organic humanity throughout the universe. If only we didn't keep going extinct on them...
  • Serious Business: In Neptune's Brood banking and finance have effectively beome diplomacy and war, audits are frequently fatal, and insurance adjusters bear letters of Marque and Reprisal.
  • Shout-Out:
  • To Serve Man: Downplayed. Metahumans consume Fragile meat, but it's artificially cultured, like the spam made from Fragile liver that Krina eats at one point.
  • Transhumanism: By the time of Neptune's Brood robots have effectively become humanity, (aka "metahumanity") with a physiology that combines the best of synthetic and biological processes ("marrow", "techne" and mechanocytes.)