Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Orbit (3 Jul 2008)
First, a note - you'll probably have to wait a bit before you're physically able to get your hands on this one. But it's going to be worth it. Meanwhile, this review is Friends-locked.
Our heroine is Freya Nakamachi-47, a sex robot designed for one thing only - to sexually pleasure human beings. Which is going to be a bit hard for her, since humanity accidentally went extinct a couple of centuries ago, and no sane robot wants to bring them back. (If you were a plantation slave, and your owners and overseers had all perished in a shipwreck, would you be rushing off to find more?) But she makes a living doing this and that, until she pisses off the Domina, an aristo who seems to enjoy the power to be able to destroy others for pure amusement. So she flees Venus, heading towards Mercury and the unspecified possibility of a job there, working for JeevesCo.
Once she gets there, she finds she's going to be a courier, carrying something very important out again.
Charlie has stated more than once that he's channelling late-period Heinlein in this novel, and indeed, the parallels between the story of Freya and that of RAH's Friday are often pretty close, from name on out. There's also a tinge of Varley, with action taking place just about everywhere in the Solar system except on Earth. The story proceeds with gusto - Freya isn't stupid, just innocent (well, as innocent as a sex robot can be - she's no virgin), and she learns quickly. (Unfortunately for her, she may not be able to learn fast enough to stay ahead of her enemies, and she's managed to collect a pretty effective collection of those.) So, it's a thrill-a-minute story, but with deep ideas behind it. Such as the nature of free will. The nature of freedom. The nature of identity. At one level, you can take it as a powerful argument against religion, or at least, against wanting your Gods to actually be around, for what else could humans be to robots?
(The nature of identity is going to be important when the way of manufacturing robots is to taking a print of an existing mind and copy it to a new body. And not knowing if a person is the same one you've already encountered, or a different one with the same body and same initial mind, well, that can cause a certain amount of confusion.)
It's got a fairly hard-line attitude to space travel, because it takes one literal years to get between planets, and it's breathtakingly expensive. But because our heroine is a robot (even if a pretty squishy one in construction), she can survive radiation levels no human could, and can spend months unable to move, thus allowing an interplanetary story to take place without bending the Mundane Manifesto too much. In the mean time, it's full of ideas, far from standard rockets-and-raygun fare.
It also has one of the most diabolically awful puns it has been my misfortune to come across.
Possibly a Prometheus prize contender. And probably my nominee for Montréal Hugo.
Edit: this review is no longer locked, as the physical edition is now in my hands.