Book 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.

“Unlike anything else written in years.” Pulleeease. This book was a DNF for me.  It was just baaaad. It couldn’t draw me in and was too much work. And that work didn’t seem to pay off for a lot of readers (read the other goodreads reviews I’ve quoted below). I picked up this book because I heard about Wilson’s upcoming release (July or August 2017–keeps getting pushed back) called Clockwork Dynasty, which was originally called Avtomat, which is apparently his word for automatons but is the Russian word for the automatic rifle. The movie rights have already been sold. But Wilson’s story is not very original in either Robopocalypse (see quotes I’ve quoted from) or in Clockwork Dynasty, because Clockwork Dynasty just seems like the setup from the novel The Automation.  (Why does the description for Clockwork call them ‘ancient’ if they were brought to life in 1725? Or were they not really brought to life–just turned back on? Let me guess, the maker of the automatons is really going to be Hephaestus?). Wilson is accused of ‘borrowing’ a lot of his ideas. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Wilson has a Phd in robotics or something, which he likes to wave around in even his book synopses, and is from Oklahoma (like me, sort of), so that’s another reason I picked up this book. I thought I wouldn’t get New York bullshit. But that Phd doesn’t mean he can tell a story, clearly:

Robopocalypse is a poor book, but I am sure Spielberg will make a great movie out of it. I think I will even watch it when it comes out in 2013. Mindless entertainment in movies is fun, in books – not so much. For me anyway.

 

Everything in the book is derivative from something else. Despite the author’s lack of a works cited page, there are elements gathered from across the science fiction canon and pasted into the book. “Trucks” (Stephen King short story) which became Maximum Overdrive (film), ideas from the Terminator franchise, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, X-Files, Star Trek, you name it, it’s in there. Also, the format is basically that of World War Z, bringing more attention to the fact that there’s very little original material in this novel.

 

Stylistically, this book tries to blend the journalistic feel of “World War Z” with a traditional science fiction narrative, but fails to accomplish either one. Unfortunately, the result is an unbalanced story that focuses on describing what happened without developing how it happened and why. Unlike “World War Z”, the author does not create a series of believable characters that share their experience of the war and shine light on how the robot-apocalypse uniquely affected humanity across the globe. Instead, the voice of the author overwhelms every story arc and interview, and ends up providing a simplistic account of what should have been a thought-provoking investigation of humanity and technology. Sadly, the downfall of the robots is unconvincing

 

Robopocalypse is often compared to Max Brooks’ World War Z and the Terminator movie franchise for different reasons. The former comparison is because the story concerns a global attack on the human race by non-human creatures and is episodic structure. The difference is that the enemy of mankind in Robopocalypse is not a horde of homicidal robots but a single AI entity controlling masses of mindless unaware robots which come in all shapes and sizes including intelligent cars, elevators, photocopying machines etc.

 

clichepocalypse!!!! Maybe a robot wrote this book

I feel embarrassed to have been sucked into this hype machine and wish I had read something else. Oh well. Consider yourselves warned. There were a couple of chapters in this book that will probably make for good intense movie scenes, but, otherwise this reads like something a 12 year-old whose seen all the Terminator movies would write.

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