Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill is a science-fiction, post-apocalyptic, artificial intelligence novel that is a stand-alone story that I will rave about until the end of 2019.
Sea of Rust takes place in a post-apocalyptic, futuristic world where humans have gone completely extinct after a massive war with artificially intelligent individuals. The story is told from the first-person perspective of a single, rogue robot who is surviving in the most dog-eat-dog existence possible, contemplating all of the events that led to their current position in life.
I’m not really sure where to begin with this review. Artificial intelligence narratives are legit one of my all-time favourite kinds of narratives to read, ever, and this one baked the whole damn cake before taking it. Apart from a few minor quirks, everything about this book is bloody brilliant.
When it comes to science-fiction, two things that I look for are meticulous world-building and hard scientific elements, no matter the specialisation (engineering, biology, geology, volcanology, etc.). The world is so carefully crafted that I can visualise this fate becoming a bonafide physical future for humans, who are absolutely obsessed with making life easier and more convenient via the use of advanced technologies, usually without a fuck to give about the repercussions of their advancements (e.g.: it’s effect on the ecosystem). The settings consist of dry, depressing desert landscapes with ruined structures that stand as memories to what was once the top of the food chain. It is haunting, claustrophobic, paranoia-inducing, all the while managing to incite feelings of exposure and vulnerability. The author takes his time describing everything, in an honest, candid, and human-like means, making the story instantaneously sweeping.
The strong essence of discomforting alienation and distrust amid a group of people that were on the same side of the war as you, a long time ago, is further built upon with the protagonist AI’s commentary on the current climate, both environmentally and psychologically, which helps weave together a story that is as much about the physical world as it is about the relationship between humans, technology, and arrogance. Their revelations on mistakes made on both fronts and the precise moment where that “oh fuck” twist occurs, really puts a refreshingly disturbing perspective on the meaning of sentience.
You can tell that Sea of Rust is heavily inspired by Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, and H.G. Wells. In fact, one of the basic motifs explored in the novel is Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. It’s expounded upon and broken down into small components that highlight how these Laws aren’t really Laws at all due to the inherent loopholes that reside within them. My mind was so intellectually engaged by the discussion on this topic that I was smiling like a creeper in the hallways of my Uni at seven o’clock in the morning whilst reading. Books that can make you think in such fantastic fucking ways, that sincerely challenge you to look at something familiar from an uncomfortably fresh new lens are my drug.
Another theme that I found to be quite relevant to today’s climate, technology notwithstanding, is how humans treat individuals that they feel are inferior to them. It could be white people against people of colour, or how the world currently views all Muslims. Rather than learn from our mistakes of oppression and hatred and work towards equality for all, we look at them as a way to diagnose where it went wrong and how to fix that fuck-up in order to succeed in becoming the superior being. Wars won’t stop because people love power and privilege too much to care about peace. This book evaluates that and puts it into a harsh-fucking-reality. Power breeds power. Oppression breeds oppression. Hate breeds hate. Greed breeds the death and destruction of millions, even a possible extinction.
Take the subject matter I described above and apply it to sentient beings that were created in a shop versus being created in a womb, and you have a huge chunk of what the novel focuses on. Sea of Rust didn’t feel like it was created to tell a specific story, but to teach a lesson on immorality, dehumanisation of something that should have a right to independence, and how, if we don’t grow the hell up, our world will eventually turn out. You can get a feeling for this after reading roughly twenty to thirty pages as a semblance of plot doesn’t begin to take shape until a good one-third into the book. Given that the point is to be contemplative and reflective, I wasn’t too bothered with the lack of plot; something that normally would bother me to no avail.
Although the story is told from the POV of an AI person, it doesn’t always stay in the present time. It alternates between the AI trying to survive in the current era, while also reminiscing about the history of the war, their experience with the brutality of ruthless survival and associated guilt, the climate, and a few other titbits. The breaks in between the present and the flashback to the history of the war was slightly disorienting to me at first, however, it follows a pretty steady rhythm that becomes easy to get acquainted with. So, the more that it happens, the less out-of-place it feels.
I know I mentioned it briefly above, but the science centres on heavy computer-related techno-talk, engineering, ecology, mild meteorology, and psychology of various sorts (mostly in relation to war and oppression), with a minor sprinkle of some other sciences commonly associated with the ones I’ve mentioned. If you are a reader who doesn’t like heavy science-discussions or information, then you may not like this book. It doesn’t really put things too much into Layman’s Terms. Everything is detailed and, although it does describe how certain things function, it’s dense. This is done to really send home the fact that the main character is an AI with an utterly different thought process than their human counterparts.
Aside from the lacking plot, the only other thing that some readers may not care for is a surprise revelation that occurs about one-half to two-thirds of the way through the narrative. Initially, I felt it came out of left field and was only written this way in order to provide a cohesive storyline so that the book can come to a natural conclusion. The purpose for which it was written is accomplished, yet it could’ve been written with more polish to soften how abrupt it felt in the end.
All in all, Sea of Rust is an excellent, highly intelligent artificial intelligence novel that provides some hardcore commentary on interpersonal relations between humans and this bullshit ideal of what is and isn’t “proper intelligent beings,” in more ways than one. I highly recommend this to readers of hard science-fiction and people who like complex, AI novels, as well as commentary on the intricacies of self-evolved societies.
4.75 cores outta 5!