The Arthur C. Clarke award will be announced July 18, 2018, at this year’s Nebula Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. Since 1965, the Nebula Awards have been given each year for the best novel, novella, novelette, and short story eligible for that year’s award. This post is part of a series of reviews of the nominees for this year’s Nebula award for best novel. The other nominees are Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock, American War by Omar El Akkad, Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar, Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed, and Borne by Jeff VanderMeer.
“I miss it, you know. Being a bartender. But the people. I mostly miss all the people.”Most dying robots do. People gave us purpose.
C. Robert Cargill’s Sea of Rust is a very fun read that, ultimately, appears to offer little more than “fun”. Set in a far (presumably Earth) future, his book follows a robot named Brittle as she forges her path in the post-human world. Between shootouts, repairs, and upgrades, Brittle spends her time wading through the Sea of Rust looking for spare parts – whether or not they’re still walking and talking.
While the premise advertised by Cargill’s publishers enticed me, I was disappointed to find that its story is hardly more than a handful of wild west-style shootouts with a fancy post-human/robot patina. While they’re very entertainingly written action sequences, I expected more substance. Specifically, the cover advertises:
“In this swath of desolation, a terrifying wilderness littered with the wreckage of the dead, Brittle slowly comes to terms with horrifyingly raw and vivid memories of annihilation – and nearly unbearable guilt.”
However, I saw none of that depth in evidence in Sea of Rust. The cover offers depth, emotion, wild swings of fear and regret, perhaps sorrow, but those offerings are only as deep as the cover.
That isn’t to say there’s no substance at all. Underneath the action there lies a wonderful story of the fall of man and rise of machines, and Cargill offers this history through snippets that regularly provide breaks between action scenes. The pacing Cargill enforces with these historical vignettes serves the story wonderfully. The history itself doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny; neither the story of the fall of man/rise of machines nor the takeover of OWIs seems to make much sense if you question it too much. However, it was wonderful color for this lighthearted robotic adventure.
In the end, I had to let go of my expectations in order to enjoy Sea of Rust but once I did I had a lovely time reading it. This book is excellently paced and structured for vacation reading, with short chapters and little reliance on attention to detail. I have no doubt that this book will be entertaining for any readers. Be sure to pick it up this summer!