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Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross
Whilst technically not out until tomorrow I managed to get my preorder delivered yesterday. I'm a big Stross fan anyway but it was so good that I finished it in two after-work sittings.

It's set in the same universe as his previous book Saturn's Children (but set thousands of years later with no connection to the previous story) in which biological humanity is long extinct but our machine descendants (most based on us physically and mentally) have spread out amongst the stars. The story focuses on one robot as she searches for her missing "Sib".

Stross has taken a very hard-SF approach here for most of the setting, a few big examples;

- Particle physics topped out millennia before the story due to the ever increasing need for bigger accelerators
- Making artificial intelligence is hard. All machines essentially run emulators of human brains
- Improving intelligence is hard. Other than faster speed and better memory the machines are individually limited. Tweaking minds tends to produce disabilities rather than transcendence.
- Interplanetory ships accelerate very slowly due to the limitations of energy efficiency and waste heat
- Interstellar spaceships get boosted by huge laser arrays to 1% and take a long time to get anywhere
- Physical trade between systems never happens. Rather after a colony has set itself up all trade is information (including copies of people) via laser arrays

I won't go into the plot at all but for me it's a breath of fresh air. Most space opera follows quite similar plots and themes and what's unique (and topical) about this book is that the central focus of the book is interstellar economics. A great deal of the plot revolves around the problem of debt and how trade can occur across lightyears of distance and hence years of lag.

It's also packed with cool technologies despite the limitations in other fields. Relevant to OA I really like the descriptions of the bodies of the robots and how they are different to "Fragiles" (their term for organics which are extremely rare and usually found in conservations). These aren't the metal and wire robots of conventional SF, they are made from mechanical cells much larger yet as complex as biological cells that differentiate into organs, are replicated by manufactories in the marrow and most interesting of all interact intelligently with each other to run an internal body economy. I particularly like how the characters regularly get damaged in mundane ways (illustrating that the universe is a harsh place) and have to ingest material and energy to fix themselves.

I think many people might be put off by this book if their expecting something a little more mainstream. Stross takes a very pessimistic view of the capabilities of artificial intelligence, space travel and the viability of organic life. Whilst I found this refreshing I realise a lot of people prefer SF to follow modern tropes like a technological singularity.

Either way if any of this interests you I strongly recommend picking up a copy Smile
The description of interstellar trade sounds very interesting. I'm quite sure myself that interstellar trade will be limited to information and copies of mentalities, genomes, blueprints and recipes, at least until a wormhole arrives in system. This means that Stross' trade scenario would apply to the whole First Federation period, before the development of traversable wormholes, and to the whole of the Periphery, beyond the reach of the Wormhole Network.
Agreed. What's really interesting is his concept of money which I still don't fully understand (definitely a book that ill need to read again). In the story it's divided into slow, medium and fast money. Fast is every day cash, medium is investments in infrastructure and slow is money that can only be transferred once the sender, receiver and a bank have all registered the trade. The point of the latter is that all three will be in three separate systems and because of how long it will take to organise slow money payments will be immune to problems of inflation and financial fraud that cash would be over interstellar distances.
Yes. Interstellar credit would need to be verified across periods of time and distances of space measured in years and light years. Slow interactions could take decades or more before they are fully realised (until wormholes are available, that is).

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