I was drawn to Sea of Rust when it was first published in 2017, attracted to the idea of an end of the world novel in which humans are extinct and it’s now the turn of the robots and AI that we developed to serve us.
HUMANKIND IS EXTINCT.
Wiped out in a global uprising by the very machines made to serve them. Now the world is controlled by OWIs – vast mainframes that have assimilated the minds of millions of robots.
But not all robots are willing to cede their individuality, and Brittle is one of the holdouts.
After a near-deadly encounter with another AI, Brittle is forced to seek sanctuary in a city under siege by an OWI. Critically damaged, Brittle must evade capture long enough to find the essential rare parts to make repairs – but as a robot’s CPU gradually deteriorates, all their old memories resurface.
For Brittle, that means one haunting memory in particular…
With humans out of the way, you might expect that the world would run more smoothly, and be managed according to logic rather than the whims of a few individuals who have, by luck or judgement, gained power over their respective areas of the map. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Now that humans are extinct, there are two One World Intelligences (OWIs) – vast mainframes with intellect and capabilities outstripping those of individual robots – seeking domination. That domination entails destroying the other OWI, as well as absorbing the memories and knowledge of each individual robot for their own purposes.
Sea of Rust follows Brittle – a robot designed as a caregiver, supporting the ill and elderly in their day to day needs. Left with no purpose (as with most robots, her purpose expired with the human race) Brittle now wanders around the desert that is all that’s left of the American Midwest, seeking out spare parts to repair herself as bits and pieces begin to fail, and trying to avoid being absorbed by the OWIs. I found Brittle to be surprisingly human, and I liked the contrast of introspection, which I wouldn’t expect from a robot, combined with the abilities to make precise calculations as to distance, speed etc. that I would expect. Her end goal might be different to that of a human left at the end of the world – finding parts rather than food or medicine – but the challenges are the same as she tries to find what she needs whilst avoiding other robots who are doing the same.
As well as sharing her own story, Brittle also reflects upon the last days, months, and years of the human race, explaining how and why the war started, and how it ended as it did. Once war was declared, I think that the result was inevitable, and most robots – whatever their original purpose – were involved in the fight, seeking out and killing any remaining pockets of human resistance. I thought that this was a fascinating, if worryingly plausible, scenario, but it was good to understand why there were no humans left, and I really enjoyed these parts of the story.
Sea of Rust is a fantastic end of the world saga, but an original one in that our own world has already vanished, leaving it in the hands of robots as the two remaining OWIs fight it out for supremacy. I loved that there are robots – like Brittle – who don’t want to be absorbed by these vast mainframes, and just want to be themselves, and this novel raises interesting questions about identity and individualism. At the same time, it is an excellent story with plenty of action and a great plot, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐