& Review: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Vintage, January 2011

Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Vintage, January 2011

The Book Itself: Honestly, this cover freaked me out! When I put it down for the night, I’d have to turn it face down so the unsettling robot wouldn’t greet me when I woke up. It does a great job capturing what would have been a very scary last thing to see though….

My ReviewThey are in your house. They are in your car. They are in the skies…Now they’re coming for you.

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 written in the style most people are now associating with World War Z – a survivor’s manuscript, compiled of news articles, radio transmissions, and interviews from those who experienced the robot uprising. There are chilling accounts from children in which their toys come alive (that chapter is very creepy, and of course I happened to be reading it at night…), personal anecdotes from the man who is gathering all this information together about his experiences in the robot war, as well as narratives pieced together from audio and visual output from security cameras. It seeks to do what World War Z did: create an impactful story about characters’ experiences when the outcome is already known.

First off, Robopocalypse is more linear than Z was. While Z jumped around the timeline, showing snippets from the turning points in the war alongside outbreak stories from around the world, the scope of Robopocalypse is a little smaller, and the time progression is a pretty steady slope. This might make the story less confusing, but also tends to make me question the format. If you’re going to tell a linear story anyway, why not make it a straight narrative? Why not do away with the set up required for survivor stories, transcripts, etc.

I think the choice has more to do with the emotional impact survivor records aim for, but I actually found the most sympathetic character to be a robot…

Niner, a robot not like the others trying to run around and kill everyone, is one of the most well-rounded, sympathetic characters in the book. And he’s not even introduced until the near end. He is smart, kind, almost saint-like in his understanding. And his relationships with the humans in his party is fascinating. But the book waits a little too long to bring him up. I left the book wanting to hear more about him and from him, and hoping that the second installment featured him heavily (I believe it does?)

I suppose my problem was that the book felt like a build up to something big, when we already knew how the something big turns out. In the opening chapters, Archos – our main robot baddie – is found and destroyed. So the entirety of Robopocalypse is leading up to that, and it took a long while to wind up to the good stuff.

I will say that the good stuff really is good. There is one chapter that is merely the description of a photograph of survivors. And it is so well-written, and so impactful, I went back and read it a few times. It describes what happens to the characters in the photograph moments later, and it is the lead-in the main fight of the novel. I found that, and the fight to be suspenseful, and, well…awesome (not the bunch of people dying part. But the way it was done and described was meaningful yet action-packed).

We still don’t know how some of these characters link up. And it seemed strange to read a first installment whose main work was to set up background for book two. I know that seems like a definition of a first installment, but I wanted more to happen, and to know and like some of these characters more than I did. The book seems like the climbing action to a finale that I have yet to read.

Nitpicking aside, read it if you liked World War Z, and/or if you look around at the technology in our lives and go…what if? It is a good read, and I’ll be reading the sequel…because I kind of feel like I have to to get the whole picture.

My Grade: B