Book Review: Sea of Rust, by C. Robert Cargill

It’s time for my latest review for Sci-Fi Month, and this week it’s the turn of C. Robert Cargill’s Sea of Rust. This review contains an affiliate link to, which will earn me a small commission and help support independent bookshops (seriously, they’re lovely folks).

Taking place in a post-apocalyptic world in which robots have risen up and exterminated humankind, Sea of Rust follows Brittle, a Simulacrum Model Caregiver; once a nurse, she’s now a scavenger in the wasteland of the title, selling what useable scrap she can come by to keep herself running. An encounter with a rival saddles her with a potential death sentence if she can’t find the parts she needs to make repairs in time, but she has other problems too. The OWIs (One World Intelligences) are out to gather up her and her kind, and will stop at nothing in their quest for complete domination over their fellow bots.

Despite the melancholy tone to much of the initial world building, but this is far from a depressing book. Brittle’s narration is extremely well pitched, her dry and pithy comebacks and barbed remarks a constant delight. She and many of her fellow bots are just as distinct as the humans they formerly served – even more so, in the case of some of those more pivotal members of the uprising – and they all feel like unique, individual characters. Even when they’re only referred to by numbers in some cases, which is quite the achievement of characterisation. They have their own vocabulary too: “Four-oh-fours” to describe failing bots, “You didn’t just come out of the box” as a substitute for not being born yesterday, and so on. It’s pleasingly ironic that this world pf plastic and metal is so well fleshed out.

It’s a wonderfully realised world that’s teetering on the brink though, in what threatens to be a kind of post-apocalypse apocalypse. The OWIs are ending their world with terrifying efficiency, an efficiency we lacked as we comparatively crawled towards our inevitable destruction; what took us millennia, they can apparently achieve in decades. It’s tragic that two almost-utopias have been sacrificed – the one which humanity could have achieved with their advancements, if only the few hadn’t still been trying to profit off the many, and the one the robots could have had if the most advanced among them hadn’t arrived at the coldly logical endgame of domination.

Cargill’s setup of robotkind and their way of life, as well as Brittle’s own musings, reminiscences and recollections, invite discussion of philosophical and existential questions. Are bots the way they are because we created them in our own image? Is it learned behaviour, perhaps even some innate survival instinct of sentient beings? Is it relevant to talk about nature versus nurture in this context? And so on. Crucially though, these ideas are explored just enough to send us down potential rabbit holes in our own heads, without slowing down the Robopocalypse-based fun. They are sparks which can potentially ignite a fire rather than exhaustive meditations on sentience; food for thought as opposed to lectures or sermons.

“I find the idea that I am artificial repugnant. No thinking thing is artificial. Artificial is an approximation. A dildo is artificial. A dam is artificial. Intelligence is intelligence, whether it be born of wires and light or two apes fucking.”

Brittle philosophises like a badass

Brittle’s flashbacks add additional colour and depth to proceedings, as she gives us background on how the world came to be the way it is, as well as outlining the part she played in the uprising. These chapters are often more introspective or expository, before switching back to the action packed and frequently bullet-riddled present. They provide well timed changes of pace, as well as filling in the blanks. Even though we ultimately know what happens to humankind, there are still plenty of moments of drama and tension in Brittle’s accounts of the world that was too.

Sea of Rust ticks every box, essentially. It has a flawed and extremely likeable main character trying to outrun her past, a post-apocalyptic setting that’s extremely well realised and explained and a gripping plot that is deftly woven together with musings on the very nature of existence. It’s difficult to find fault with it, so you know what? I’m not even going to try.

Sea of Rust was published by Gollancz in 2017. It was a Financial Times Book of the Year, and was subsequently shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2018. C. Robert Cargill also recently announced Day Zero, another book in the same setting, coming in May next year. You can buy your own copy of Sea of Rust through this affiliate link to, which would help me out with a commission fee and help out independent bookshops with a fair bit more than that (I recently bought some books through them myself and noticed they tell you exactly how much your purchase has helped out indie bookshops by, which is really cool).

Currently reading: Ghost Species, James Bradley
Currently listening: Detritus of the Final Age, Harlott

17 thoughts on “Book Review: Sea of Rust, by C. Robert Cargill

      1. It’s a great concept too, now that the robot uprising has been done so much.
        I actually thought a book I read recently was going to be about an AI overlord like Matrix, but it fights with human bodies that have been programmed instead of bots. It wasn’t actually about that in the end, but I don’t think I’ve seen that done before either (that I can recall).

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I really enjoyed it (as you can tell!) and would agree with you. It deals with a lot of the same kind of themes as other dystopians, but frames them differently. For me that made them more resonant in a lot of ways.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Ohbi am here for “pithy comebacks and varied remarks” just as much as for the thought-provoking-without-taking-over-the-story-ness (I’m tired, sorry, I’m sure there’s a word for this!)
    Really do love your reviews Ollie! 😃

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed reading! I know what you mean, I forgave her and the other robots their very human characteristics because they just had such great personalities!


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