In the future, intelligent robots rise up against their human masters and after a short, horrific war, destroy all of humanity. C. Robert Cargill’s SEA OF RUST tells the story of Brittle, a robot plagued by guilt over everything she’s done, scavenging for spare parts in a wasteland created by the war.
When I read the synopsis, I didn’t see much new being added to a dense field. I also wondered if the author was up to the task of getting me to emphasize with creatures that are basically machines. But a few random pages grabbed me, as did the cover. I’m glad I gave it a chance, as I loved it. Cargill manages to deliver an entirely fresh take on a familiar idea, while delivering plenty of action, interesting characters, empathy, and even some engaging philosophy in the execution.
The robots are handled very well, with varying capabilities, self-given upgrades, and levels of artificial intelligence, resulting in different personalities. Brittle, for example, was a Caregiver, resulting in her thinking and feeling closer to humans than other models. This provides the needed empathy for the reader, explains the colloquial dialogue, and treats the reader to characters who are human in some ways (the legacy of the masters they killed) while being machines in others. After the war, the new civilization they wanted to create was compromised by the rise of OWI–One World Intelligence–giant mainframes absorbing millions of robots into its consciousness and seeking global domination. Unable to build factories, the only option robots have to stay alive is get parts on the open market or from each other. As internal circuitry degrades, some robots start to lose their sanity, and end up roaming the Sea of Rust until they die.
The world building is rich and believable, leaving me with no loose ends or unanswered questions. Overall, Brittle’s world is pretty bleak and filled with existential dread and very real dangers, a sort of Western with robots, and she has to live with the memories of the horrible things she’d done in the war. When she’s given a chance to play a part in remaking the world again, she takes it, joining a great cast of characters on a trek across the Sea of Rust to the town that started the war.
If you dig the robot apocalypse, check out SEA OF RUST for a story offering great action and world building, likeable characters, plenty of originality, and interesting ideas.