Hugo Novel Review (Part 2): Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross

written by David Steffen


This is a continuation of the partial review of Neptune’s Brood I posted in July. As I said in that review, the book took a while to hook me on the plot, but got me early with the interesting worldbuilding involving posthuman android bodies with transmittable, transferrable minds. The protagonist, Krina-Alizond-114 is a historian of accountacy practices, specializing in the history of FTL scams. FTL travel has never been invented in this universe, but neither has anyone proven that it’s impossible, so every once in a while someone claims to have found the secret and seeks to collect tons of money from fraud. As the book starts, Krina is en route to the water planet Shin-Tethys to find out what happened to her missing sister.

Overall, I liked the book for similar reasons as I mentioned in the initial review–really interesting worldbuilding, particularly around the speculation of a plausible financial system that would work in an intergalactic civilization that operates by the physical laws as we understand them, particularly the speed of light limit on communication. And once the action finally starts, it keeps up that pace pretty steadily.

But there were some things that bugged me, to an extent that I wouldn’t recommend the book without caveat.

1. The backstory of what reasons really underlie Krina’s trip to Shin-Tethys are given in trickles at intervals throughout the book. I thought much of this information came too late, so that by the time it came, I had to re-evaluate significant portions of what the character had revealed before.

2. Very near the end there’s a big reveal that, although the reasons behind it are revealed, comes out of the blue as completely absurd in its magnitude. I had trouble swallowing that one.

3. The ending was very unsatisfying. Deus ex machina. Much too easy after the rest of the book is full of nearly insurmountable challenges. It seemed like the challenges had stacked up and up to such a degree that Stross wrote himself into a corner and had to just cheat his way around the ending.

Overall, the book had a lot of really great parts, and has a lot to recommend it. In the end I didn’t feel that it really stuck the landing.