After the end of days: Sea of Rust, by C. Robert Cargill

August 31, 2020 Adam Sell
After the end of days: Sea of Rust, by C. Robert Cargill
By Adam Sell
 
 
The Bot Book Review is an occasional series of short reviews of robot-themed books as written by White Ops team members.
 
I have a confession to make, one that might result in the loss of my proverbial “man card”: I have never seen a Clint Eastwood movie.
 
Okay, well technically I have, but Space Cowboys doesn’t count. And neither does Invictus, cause he’s not even in that one.
 
All of this is to say that the fact that I’ve fallen in love with a book best described as a “robot Western”, well, it was completely unexpected since I have zero history with the genre.
 
Sea of Rust, by C. Robert Cargill, explores the “after the after”. In my last review, focused on Retrograde, I made a comment about the mechanism of man-invents-machines, machines-rebel-against-man:
 
Don’t give me “oh damn, the robots are evil now”. Clarke did it better and eons ago.
 
And I stand by that statement. It’s a tired trope, one that dates back to Milton, I would imagine. But what Cargill did that neither Cawdron (of Retrograde) nor Clarke did was look at what happened after that war.
 
In Sea of Rust, the human race is extinct and has been for fifteen years. Our—humans’—development of artificial intelligence resulted in a handful of megacomputers tasked with solving some of the greatest challenges known to mankind: philosophy, astronomy, biology, etc. But when a number of them grew so intelligent they decided speaking to humans was not worth their time, confusion reigned among our species. Followed by the mobilization of those megacomputers in a war against humans. Followed by the extinction of humanity after only fifteen years.
 
That in and of itself probably wouldn’t make my socks roll up and down. But looking at a world populated exclusively by bots in various forms, the survivors of the human-robot war, well now you have my attention.
 
Our protagonist (again I’m reluctant to use the word ‘hero’ for this character) is Brittle, a so-called “free” bot who is not enmeshed with the remaining megacomputers that duke it out for supremacy of the American continent. Brittle and her ilk scavenge for parts in the titular Sea of Rust, a desert that formed following the war in the American Rust Belt.
 
Parts, for a society composed entirely of sentient robots, are surprisingly hard to come by for a number of bot models. I’m not a big car person, but I imagine it’s a bit like trying to find factory parts for a Saturn Vue today.
 
At any rate, Brittle meanders among the Sea, which is populated only by the hopeless and hopelessly lost. What she finds, she sells, and what she needs, she takes. She’s a pretty classic rogue/maverick archetype, only in the persona of a sentient robot with the various issues that a robot experiences.
 
The story, compellingly, is told alternately in Brittle’s perspective and in a third-person omniscient POV of what got us from where the reader is to where the story takes place. This mechanism doesn’t always work unless handled very delicately, but Cargill is extremely polished in this story.
 
And no wonder, too, when the author is responsible for contributing to several Hollywood screenplays. In many scenes, I felt as though I were watching a movie of this story, with the characters’ motivations shifting and the twists not telegraphed but not out of left field, either.
 
Fascinatingly, the story manages to touch on issues of self-determination, the existence of a higher power (and how to participate in that exercise), and the balance between mercy and wrath, none of which felt forced in the narrative.
 
Brittle’s story is, as must happen, interrupted by a rival scavenger, and the broader events of the story snowball from there. By the end, the Sea is littered (literally and metaphorically) with the bodies of nearly every named character in the story. But there’s somehow still a glimmer of hope for a better future.
 
So I suppose I have to add an addendum to my comment about Clarke being the godfather of robot rebellion: it’s okay to write that story today, but you need to bring something new to it. Cargill did so elegantly and—ironically—with humanity.
 
Sea of Rust
By C. Robert Cargill
 
Bot Book Review Rating: 5/5 stars
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