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Friday, May 17, 2019

Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)


Official Author Website
Order Sea of Rust over HERE


AUTHOR INFORMATION: A veteran of the web, C. Robert Cargill wrote as a film critic for over ten years at Ain't it Cool News under the name Massawyrm, served as animated reviewer Carlyle on Spill.com and freelanced for a host of other sites including tenures at Film.com and Hollywood.com. He is the co-writer of the motion picture SINISTER, and lives and works in Austin, Texas.


OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A touching story of a search one robot's search for the answers in a world where every human is dead. The new novel from C. Robert Cargill echoes the worlds of Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. It is another The Martian but with a very surprising protagonist. 

CLASSIFICATION: Sci-fi.

FORMAT: Sea of Rust was published in 2017 by Gollancz. It's available in an e-book, paperback, and hardcover format. 

The book counts 365 pages


OVERVIEW: Sea of Rust offers an intriguing subversion of the robot-apocalypse genre, as it takes place after humans became an extinct species. They had it coming, what with all the AI experimentation and blissful ignorance? Bots and AIs struggle to survive in the decaying, foreboding world they’ve built for themselves.

Written as a one-shot, middle length novel, Sea of Rust contains more creative ideas than many bloated epics. Impressive. Not only does Cargill introduce a terrifying, innovative world, he also blends cinematic action sequences with a clever plot and some philosophical depth. Sure, it’s more of a fast-moving, violent action thriller set in the deadlands where robots fire plasma-guns at each other than a deep treatise on the nature of the existence, but it has its moments of reflection.

Robots overthrew and exterminated humans (for a very logical reason explained in the book), but in the long run, it changed nothing. Just as humans they cling to life, and fight for survival and freedom from their own robot overlords called OWI (One Wold Intelligences). North America became the battleground for two OWIs, VIRGIL, and CISSUS, that strive to absorb individual robots into their ever-growing hive mind. You either join them or die.

Not all bots fancy the idea of giving up their consciousness. They hide in the wastelands and broken cities and scavenge for parts to keep surviving. Brittle, a former Caregiver robot haunted by memories of the war, is such a bot. She wants to keep her independence,  but some of her vital parts are failing, and she needs parts. Unfortunately, the only Caregiver she knows, Mercer, needs her parts as much as she needs his. To make matters worse, CISSUS actions drag Brittle, Mercer, and other bots into a secret mission that may end the OWIs’ rule. They just need to survive.

Brittle is a veteran and a survivor, desperate to keep living. On the outside, she’s independent, angry and wants others to believe she doesn’t give a damn about anything. But it’s just a mask. The narrative seesaws back and forth between her present and her past, showing her as a Caregiver who not only lived with humans but also loved them. As much as she tries to escape herself, she can’t do it, and she looks for the right cause to fight for.

Mercer, Doc, Murka, they all have distinct personalities and share great chemistry in the scenes in which they appear together. Mercer and Brittle’s conflict and interactions bring tension and change with time.

As much as I enjoyed Sea of Rust, I have to mention its flaws. First, in theory, there're no humans in the book. In reality, though, the bots behave and think precisely like humans, the only difference being them looking for parts. A funny thing here, as it seems most bots use old-school hardware and OWIs need entire buildings to contain themselves. I could understand it in a book written in the nineties, but not recently. I mean we’ve all heard about quantum computing, neural networks, and nanotechnology. I understand it was easier to write the robot-apocalypse western this way, but easier rarely means better.

The shortcuts and casual treatment of layered problems were probably a deliberate narrative choice. Great pacing and accessibility made Sea of Rust compelling and difficult to put down. The final twist was great, but including sexbots near the end felt cheap and tropey.

CONCLUSION: Despite this criticism, I had a lot of fun reading Sea of Rust. Intended and written as a standalone, it leaves plenty of space for more stories in the world. I hope Cargill won’t fight the temptation to write them.

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