October 14, 2011

Review: Robopocalypse by Daniel H Wilson

In the near future, at a moment no one will notice, all the dazzling technology that runs our world will unite and turn against us. Taking on the persona of a shy human boy, a childlike but massively powerful artificial intelligence known as Archos comes online and assumes control over the global network of machines that regulate everything from transportation to utilities, defense and communication. In the months leading up to this, sporadic glitches are noticed by a handful of unconnected humans – a single mother disconcerted by her daughter’s menacing “smart” toys, a lonely Japanese bachelor who is victimized by his domestic robot companion, an isolated U.S. soldier who witnesses a ‘pacification unit’ go haywire – but most are unaware of the growing rebellion until it is too late.

When the Robot War ignites -- at a moment known later as Zero Hour -- humankind will be both decimated and, possibly, for the first time in history, united. Robopocalypse is a brilliantly conceived action-filled epic, a terrifying story with heart-stopping implications for the real technology all around us…and an entertaining and engaging thriller unlike anything else written in years.

'Robopocalypse' is another in the list of dystopian fictions that are wildly popular right now. Set in the near future, it is the story of what happens when the robots we created become smart enough to want to get rid of us (Cue AC/DC's 'Who made Who'). Focusing on a few people in different locations around the planet, 'Robopocalypse' is written as a supposed series of first person narratives, collected and transcribed by a third party.

First, let's talk about the name. It's dumb. The story, though... that's a different story. I found 'Robopocalypse' to be an entertaining, enjoyable read, from the first page to the last. Though it's structure is clearly modeled on Max Brooks' zombie apocalypse novel 'World War Z' (soon to be a film with Brad Pitt, and a fine book in itself), it is not a clear derivative. Where 'World War Z' kept fairly stringently to a third person omniscient point of view, 'Robopocalypse' is far more personal in the narratives of each person. In fact, that damages the conceit of the novel, the device of the stories having been harvested by a robot and transcribed by a single individual--how would either come up with the very personal points of view of each story? It would have been better to have dropped that idea and just gone with a series of interlocked first person narratives (which these are, anyway), without the 'outside voice' of the transcriber.

Never mind that though (I just tuned it out eventually). It becomes unimportant as the novel steams along. It's entertaining as hell! I don't know if plans are already in motion, but if the rights to this novel isn't bought by a studio by the end of the year, I will be very surprised. Wilson creates both characters and storylines that kept me eagerly reading and wondering... is this possible? He makes a convincing argument. I really enjoyed 'Robopocalypse'. If you like dystopian fiction, so will you.


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