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Neptune's Brood by Charlie Stross is an example of Stross's specialty, economic science fiction. Although in this case, the economic thought experiment is clearly at the center, not like the Merchant Princes where it initially lies obscured by a veneer of fantasy. The novel, subtitled "A Space Opera," is a conscious homage to Heinlein, most specifically the novel Friday, just as the first novel in the series, Saturn's Children, was.

Neptune's Brood has, like Friday, a quick-thinking and resourceful female adventurer as hero of the opera, named Krina. The story is recounted by the main character in the past tense, with a faint Heinleinian edge of condescending hyper-competence that seems to say that no danger was ever more than mildly concerning and no hardship was more than in inconvenience. I found that this extra distance dampens the effect of the story. In Friday, this makes some thematic sense, because the deeper focus of the story was on the attempts by Friday, an augmented human, to find a welcoming niche in human society. This emotional level doesn't exist in Neptune's Brood. On the other hand, not adding in an analog to this part of Friday allowed Stross to excise the vile sexism rampant in Heinlein's work (only some of which can be excused as writing for the audience of the day).

The series of reversals and denouments that drives the plot, especially toward the end, is more complex, surprising, and interesting than anything from Heinlein's era.

In much of Stross's work, the universe in which the action occurs acts almost like another character, whether in the form of an omnipotent AI, nameless horrors sleeping in the deeps, or a traversable multiverse. Not in this case. The most interesting world building, a water-covered planet, doesns't appear until halfway through, and it is not as well developed as I would like. In an interesting antiparallel, Friday through the book continuously loses allies, increasing the narrative tension, until she faces her last challenge alone, while Krina starts alone and accumulates helpers, which I think gives less impact to the story.

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October 2015

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