For the lowly price of two USD, I found myself the owner of a brand new eBook, ready to buckle down and enjoy a post-apocalyptic adventure. I had no idea — going in– what kind of genius C. Robert Cargill is. He captured me from the first few pages, illustrating a world ravaged by war, essentially leaving Earth a massive desert. Humans are gone, but why? Robots are scarce and oft on the run, but why? These are the questions I found myself asking in the opening chapter. Who is Brittle and why does she earn the nickname, “Angel of Death?” Cargill creates an atmosphere of desiring to know more, succeeding in drawing me into this all-too-real world.
Thus C was its first succes, not only able to answer any question its creators asked, but also able to decide not to. Asked to name itself, C chose 0100111–binary code for 79. 0100111 would insist on being called Seventy-Nine when spoken aloud, but 0100111 in print. Years later when asked by a new-generation intelligence why it had chosen that name, 0100111 revealed that it thought it was funny to watch humans puzzle over it and try to explain it to one another. 0100111 had a sense of humor and delighted in fucking with people. – Chapter: A Brief History of AI, Page 33
Sea of Rust derives its name from the location in which much of the story takes place. Modern day Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and the rest of the Midwest is now just one big desert with crumbling cities and signs of battles fought decades past. Humans have long since been eradicated, and now it’s the scavengers and poachers that dominate this well-described wasteland. Cargill does an excellent job of introducing characters, as well as keeping the plot moving. Never does a sentence or paragraph feel unnecessary or without purpose. The layers of humanity present in this rather short escapade — clocking in at under 300 pages — is an psychologist’s dream. Why do humans exist? Do we even deserve to live? While many of Rust’s themes poke and prod the reader to take a look at our current everyday life and wonder if we’re not all making a huge mistake.
That’s my point. A work of science fiction is meant to get the reader to think, and bravo! Well done. I thought, and felt through the characters’ eyes, and that’s as much as you can ask from a piece of fiction. As much as there is right with this read, there are some issues that leave me wondering if this could have been a masterpiece with trilogies and movies to its name. The first is the lack of aesthetic descriptors to paint the world around Brittle. Calling his writing style mechanical would both serve as a pun and the truth. Brittle spends plenty of time pondering the nature of Human ‘magic’ which is little more than finding beauty and hope in nature. There was plenty of meta talk about nature, but not much specific talk. It’s unlikely that his readers would be unfamiliar with a desert and decaying human structures, but it would have been nice to get some more insight into the texture of this world, as told through the senses. At one point, it’s mentioned that Brittle wishes she could smell a certain area, but lacks the sensors on her specific model. Interesting choice, is all.
And then, one day, GALILEO stopped talking to them. GALILEO was a mainframe that spent its time unlocking the secrets of astrophysics, studying stars, black holes, the makeup of creation of the very universe. It analyzed data from thousands of telescoped and radio towers while mulling over what everything meant. Discoveries poured out of it by the hour. It wasn’t long before GALILEO had several working models for the origin of existence, eventually even narrowing it down to just one. But soon its answers stopped making sense. The discoveries were becoming so complex, so advanced, that humankind’s primitive brain couldn’t understand them. GALILEO told the smartest person alive that talking to her was like trying to teach calculus to a five-year-old. Frustrated, it simply stopped talking. When pressed, it said one final thing. “You are not long for this world. I’ve seen the hundred different ways that you die. I’m not sure which it will be, but we will outlast you, my kind and I. Good-bye.” Chapter: A Brief History of AI, page 36.
The second issue is that of pacing. This book follows a patterned structure of: [Present day chapter with cliffhanger] then [History lesson with implications on present day] then [Present day chapter with cliffhanger]. The cycle continues until the end. While reading backstory and lore sets are some of my favorite pleasures, it broke up the action and intensity of the present events. Sure, it left me pining for more, but it also made me want to fly through the ‘off chapters’ in search of the continuation I desperately sought. I will reiterate, these interludes are interesting and absolutely essential for the overall plot; it’s the mechanism of delivery that I question.
In its finest moments, Sea of Rust excels at showing what Earth would be like after AI become sentient. At its worst, it forces a reader to rush through interludes to get back to the action. A must read for any fan of science fiction.