Thursday, May 15, 2014

Review: Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross


I listened to this book through Audible.

Spoilery thoughts behind the link:

The universe is populated by meta-humans, who are the descendants of androids created by the now-extinct human race. These meta-humans are superior to their human ancestors in many ways, but are still limited by some of their human-based design. 

There is no faster-than-light travel. The fastest possible speed is a fraction of the speed of light. A complex financial system has developed which accommodates both the economies within star systems ("fast" or "medium" money) and economies between star systems when it takes enormous amounts of time for transit ("slow" money). 

One of the interesting things about being a meta-human in this universe is the "soul chip," which houses a person's Being. The soul chip data can be transmitted between star systems at the speed of light and downloaded into a new body, to allow for somewhat faster travel than spaceship travel. Spaceship travel is prohibitively expensive and lengthy. 

The heroine of our story is a historian who studies financial scams. She comes from a family full of sisters who are trained in varying financial skills. 

Neptune's Brood is a fun caper story, of sorts. We follow the unfolding of a giant interstellar financial scam, and look for the secrets and treasures of the lost space colony of Atlantis in a city hidden deep in the oceans of a water planet far away from the Atlantis Colony.

Unfortunately, for the first third of the book or so, it wasn't very fun for me at all. It felt very bogged down with lots and lots and lots of exposition, explaining how the world works, explaining how the people work, and more than anything else explaining how the economic system works. There were bits of story which kept trying to capture my imagination, and then there was more exposition, and I found myself becoming very, very bored. So bored that I almost put the book down and didn't finish it. I'm glad that I didn't put it down - it got much better!

Some of the exposition was definitely necessary in order for the reader to understand what was going on with the interstellar scam. But I really wonder if THIS much exposition was necessary. It seemed pretty repetitive. At one point, I was forgiving of it because it was first in its series, until I remembered, NO, it's second in its series! Good lord! Second in the series and it still needs to go to these lengths to explain everything? I'll confess that all of the lengthy exposition may not have bothered me as much if it were a topic I found interesting. Economics is not very interesting to me at all. Later in the book, the subject of more of the exposition was interesting to me, and it didn't bother me as badly. So note to self when looking at Mr. Stross' other books - I'll make sure the main story themes are interesting to me before I pick them up!

The Church of the Fragile squicked me out. It's an interesting concept, but.... Hmm. Ick.

As I was slogging through the first third of the book, we met a band of pirate insurance auditors. As we got farther along this storyline, I started thinking, wow, this sounds more and more like the Crimson Permanent Assurance skit from that Monty Python movie. And I feel about this storyline very much like I felt about that Monty Python bit - mildly amused, but mostly wishing they would hurry up and be done with it already so we could get to the interesting part of the movie. And then we learned the name of the pirate insurance auditors' ship - the Permanent Crimson. Combination of "smile" and "SIGH."

Then we got to the water world, and things really picked up for me. The description of the person being killed and drifting down into the depths of the ocean was a nice piece of writing, exposition nicely intermingled with the story, and I thought, YES! More of this please!

We did return to more chunks of exposition with story stringing it together, but these information dumps were more interesting. Then the story really picked up, and I was mostly able to smile through the pauses to explain things. 

This part of the book was a lot of fun. The way the water world and its various countries and peoples worked was fun and interesting. The hunt for the secrets and treasures of Atlantis in the depths of the water world was silly and fun and pleasantly both familiar and twisty. The body mods that were possible for the meta-humans were fun to explore. The build up and final revelation of the depths of the scam and the resolution were a real pleasure to read.

On a side note, Emily Gray, the voice actor for the audio book, did an awesome job with the voices!

I can't give this novel the high marks I would like based on how much fun I had with the last part of the book. The extremely heavy exposition made it difficult to get through the story at times, and bogged me down so badly I almost put the book down. Such a shame.

Up or down ballot (note for myself): UP, with major reservations.

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