C. Robert Cargill's Sea of Rust is a Shiny, New Sci-fi Essential
Mon, 07/24/2017 - 3:24pm — Alyssa Duspiva
Tired of humans? Same here. Jump into a world where robots rule in C. Robert Cargill's Sea of Rust. Robots are in a golden age, free from the chains humanity placed on them ... until mainframes with armies of robots become intent on making every robot assimilate into their numbers — voluntarily or not. Now every free thinking bot is in danger as these One World Intelligences battle for control.
A robot named Brittle doesn't concern herself with the OWIs. She's just trying to make a living like everyone else in the Sea of Rust — well, as much as you can in a wasteland filled with the rusting parts of long defunct robots. But when a journey goes bad, Brittle finds herself in an uphill battle against the OWIs, while racing to find parts so that she can keep functioning.
We had a lot of questions for C. Robert Cargill — luckily he was keen to answer them!
RT: A lot of post-apocalyptic media focuses on human heroes and how they struggle with the breakdown of society, but Sea of Rust has no (living) humans. Why did you choose to come at the genre from a completely different angle, with an entirely new society, complete with different rules based on the needs of robots rather than humans?
C. Robert Cargill: That’s the dream of every writer, isn’t it? To find that new way into a story, to find that angle that makes everyone scratch their head and ask “Why didn’t I think of that,” before saying “I really have to read that.” Great high concept story ideas make you wonder how the writer got it to work, and I hope that’s what I’ve managed to do with Sea of Rust. It’s exciting to tackle something like that. And scary. No one has figured out the work arounds yet. No one knows if the idea even works. But in experimenting, you find new ways to convey all the crazy ideas swirling around in your head. And that’s what writing is really all about to begin with.
The cover art is absolutely stunning! Did you have any influence on the direction of the art?
Very little. I had a talk with Simon Spanton, who was my editor at Gollancz at the time, and we talked about rough ideas. He came back with this and I was IN LOVE. When Harper Voyager asked what I wanted, I showed them this and they fell in love as well. My dream cover was something that looked like it belonged in a stack of paperbacks from the 60s or 70s, and instead they gave me something that looked like it belonged on the top of that stack. I wish I could take more credit for it. But I’m proud as hell that it’s on the front of my book.
The One World Intelligences, or OWIs, are particularly intimidating — especially because of their roots in the development of today’s supercomputers and AI. How did current technology and advancements spur your writing?
I focused a lot on the current ideas of how to make AI work and then tried to extrapolate that into something realistic but still fanciful enough to be fun. Oftentimes in sci-fi, we jump ahead to the inevitable future — powerful tech, both miniaturized and portable. But I wanted to see a world struggling with the advancement of that tech, that still had physical limitations involving movement, energy and data storage. That’s where I thought the most interesting stories were going to be. Also, I focused a lot on the upcoming economic problems we’ll be facing due to the earliest incarnations of automated tech — like self-driving cars and non-sentient AI. I felt it was important to stay grounded in our coming fears rather than jumping ahead into a robotic utopia that might never come.
Your characters ask an age-old question with a robotic twist: Who are they? Are they merely a sum of their parts? What is consciousness? Our main character Brittle wants to know, especially as she scavenges for new parts to keep her ticking. But what makes Brittle who she is? What motivates her?
That’s the question Brittle herself is trying to answer. She’s a survivor. That’s her identity. But she believes she is more than that — she’s just not quite sure what that more actually is. And as she gets deeper and deeper into trouble, her true colors start showing through. But I think what motivates her most is her desire to prove humanity wrong, to prove what happened wasn’t a mistake. It is an inevitable future that she is a part of, that robots are the next evolution of mankind; not merely their creation, but their extension. And if she gives up, if she dies out in the Sea, then she was wrong. And Brittle does not like being wrong.
Having written Marvel’s Doctor Strange, and now working on the film adaptation for the video game Dues Ex, would you want to see a movie or video game adaptation of Sea of Rust?
Definitely. A movie, absolutely. I hadn’t thought about a video game, though. An open world Sea of Rust game would be pretty much everything a sci-fi geek like me ever wanted out of a video game. Yeah, I’d like that quite a bit.
Will we be reading more about Brittle and the world of Sea of Rust? Or do you have your sights on other writing projects?
I really have no idea. I’m working on a couple of scripts right now, I’ve got a couple of projects in development, and I have a book of short stories coming out next year. There’s no telling where I’m headed next. But I can’t imagine not at least writing a few short stories or novellas set in the Sea. Whether they contain characters from this book or not, I couldn’t even begin to tell you. But if people end up enjoying the book, I imagine I’ll take another crack at something involving the world. There might be some ore still down in that mine.
Let's hope that he hits a vein, then! Pre-order your copy of Sea of Rust from one of these retailers: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Indiebound
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