It's Christmas Eve Eve, and if you’re scrambling for that perfect gift for a book or a sci-fi lover in your life, you can't go wrong with C. Robert Cargill’s "Sea of Rust: A Novel". It's an incredible sci-fi novel about an artificially intelligent robot named Brittle who used to be a caregiver robot for humans, but since the war that wiped out humanity, she's now a scavenger looking for parts needed for survival in a postapocalyptic wasteland called the Sea of Rust. This is my favorite book of 2017 by far, and going even further, it's on my list of favorite books in general.
For the last 15 years, I have been a book editor with a specialty in fiction, so I spend a lot of my time reading other people's work, which makes me ridiculously picky when choosing books for pleasure. If a book doesn't have a strong first sentence or if the opening paragraph isn't well written, I'll usually stop reading. However, “Sea of Rust” had me captivated from the very beginning. It was such a well-crafted story. I consider this novel to be literary science fiction.
Yes. When you read a book, especially if you have a busy life and your free time is limited, it's a time investment. So when you're encouraging someone to read something, what you're saying is you need to give hours of your life to this and the payoff is worth it. So much like I often do with movies, I would encourage you to read this book if you’re a fan of certain other science fiction, for example, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, or Philip K. Dick. While “Sea of Rust” isn’t the same high science fiction as Clarke, it is incredibly smart and requires you to engage your mind to understand some of the concepts that are being introduced. There is a strong early similarity in the book to “Blade Runner,” because they both have a sense of mystery to what's going on in the story and obviously the interplay of those ideas about what constitutes sentience or free thought. Nature versus nurture relative to programming versus artificial intelligence.
Yeah, that’s what I really felt was the most interesting thing about this novel. It delves into a discussion of issues that humans are confronted without being preachy or too heavy handed because we're talking about robots. I thought it was fascinating how he was able to pull this off.
Yeah. I think the biggest achievement in this book, aside from the fact that the character and world building are so good that you're compelled to read it, is that some bigger ideas are approached in such an intelligent way that they contribute to the overall conversation in ways that other authors have not. I hope in the long run this book is remembered for how effectively it addresses the origin of artificial intelligence. We've had a lot of fiction about this like HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” SkyNet in the “Terminator” franchise, and the Matrix, especially as shown in the “Animatrix.” In all of those cases, there's a kind of underpants gnome leap that happens where everyone shrugs and just says, “Wow, this thing is self-aware.” What is so incredibly intelligent and should be lauded about this book is an investigation into how. How do we know when something is self-aware? If you're looking at a program or an artificial intelligence, at what point do you determine that it's actually self-aware and at what point does it begin to interact with us on an equal level? I personally have never read any science fiction that approached or tried to explain those ideas with any kind of intelligence before this.
I agree. And also just to expand on your comment about world building, there's something so cinematic about the writing. I could visualize everything. When I remember the book, I feel as if I have seen it because it's just that wonderful of a detailed description. This is Cargill’s third book, and if you're familiar with some of his earlier work, which was in the Young Adult Fantasy genre, be prepared that this is an entirely different thing. I cannot wait to see what he writes next.
I hope that he continues down the path of science fiction. I feel like there's so much “seen that, been there” done in the world of sci-fi right now that fresh voices and perspectives are very precious. Not to knock fantasy, I enjoy fantasy quite a bit, but this, in particular, was such a breath of fresh air to the genre.
Cargill is such a unicorn because it’s rare to be a writer who not only excels at the novel form but also is a prolific screenwriter. Those two things don't normally exist because they are opposite forms of writing. It’s not too late to gift someone with the eBook version of "Sea of Rust: A Novel." They will be extremely grateful.