a review by Nalini Haynes
Neptune’s Brood is set in the far future when sentient beings who claim to be descended from Fragile Humans inhabit vat grown bodies tweaked to suit expected extremes of their environments. Sentient descendants of humanity have seeded themselves across the stars in spite of using slower-than-light space drives, thus they are reliant on an economy that accommodates transmission signals and travel that takes decades to beam across the vast distances of space.
Krin Alizon 114, a new human and a doctor of the historiography of accountancy practices, sets out on an interstellar search for a sister who disappeared during a fraud investigation fraught with danger. As we follow Krin’s search we learn more about her universe as well as her history that led her to be in fear for her life.
Neptune’s Brood features a zombie attack in the church in the first half of the book before the humour mellows into a wryer, more subtle narrative. Witty social comment along the lines of ‘the difference between merchant banking and barefaced piracy is slimmer than most people imagine’ relating to Count Rudi [ac-Count-ant Rudi], a rat-like bat grown in a vat (Flint and Freer reference), insurance underwriter with piratical tendencies. Stross continually pokes fun at contemporary economics, so much so that I wonder how much this novel was inspired by the GFC. In spite of this strong humorous thread, I’d say there is too much serious science fiction content to justify a comedy classification but the humour spices up what could have been a dry narrative.
References to other works abound, everything from Plato’s Cave to Macbeth and the SF masters of the 20th century. Stross’s currency division between fast money, medium money and slow money is something he’s borrowed from other sources; I can’t remember exactly where I’ve read it before, but it’s probably derived from the works of Asimov, Heinlein and other masters.
As Krin is an accountant by background and the narrative voice of this novel, the reader is exposed to significant explanation of economics and relevant terms, even when she explains the functioning of manufactured human bodies. It is only when another point of view is used that the reader is exposed to a relational explanation of bodies.
Action scenes are interspersed with exposition in the form of Krin writing an account of her actions with detailed explanations as one might expect from an auditor seeking to balance the ledgers. Although ‘show don’t tell’ is the general rule, the juxtaposition of these portions of narrative works because some of the most taxing portions of exposition follow the most humorous portions of the plot.
Most novels are written using the basic 5,000 words of English; I guesstimate that Stross used several hundred words that are not included in the basic 5,000. Many of these words make sense if read carefully in context and if examined logically. For example, ‘optoconversationalist’ includes the words ‘opto’ and ‘conversationalist.’ ‘Opto,’ according to the reference dictionary, means ‘a combining form meaning “optic” or “vision,” used in the formation of compound words: optometry.’ Thus a squid who communicates via use of camouflage by changing colours is called an ‘optoconversationalist.’ Other extravagant terms may be thusly derived, lifted from texts in relevant disciplines (e.g. marine biology or nuclear physics) or may simply be from the ‘higher end’ of the normal English-speaking spectrum. Suffice to say, this is not a book for the linguistically challenged; here be extremely erudite dragons. Or bats. Whatever. Fear not: it’s not necessary to fully understand the entirety of the language in the novel, however; common sense and careful reading provides sufficient context.
I’ve described books as ‘chocolate’ and ‘fairy floss;’ Neptune’s Brood is the haggis of books. Made of many parts that possibly should not be too closely analysed for fear of overwhelming the fainthearted, it has lots of literary protein for the brain. Comedic elements range from a zombie spoof to humorous social commentary, entertaining the alert reader. I highly recommend Neptune’s Brood.
Read it at your peril.
- PUBLISHER: ORBIT
- ISBN: 9780356500997
- RRP: $32.99
- JULY 2013
- 336 PAGES
- SCIENCE FICTION