Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
Published by Simon and Schuster UK, June 2012
ISBN: 978 0 85720 414 1
Robopocalypse is a techno-thriller whose title pretty much highlights what to expect.
Whilst borrowing heavily from SF tropes – the near-future zeitgeist of Michael Crichton, Cameron’s The Terminator franchise, or perhaps even D.F. Jones’ Colossus – this story of how humans created robots, were deemed unworthy by robot intelligence and eventually fought against their robot creations, is a fast-paced tale of endurance and survival.
The novel begins where normally it would end: the discovery of a ‘black box’ containing a summary of interviews, events and people from before and during the ‘Rob’ war, which has just finished. Each chapter then is an extract from these records as related by human soldier Cormac ‘Bright Boy’ Wallace – a transcript of videos, interviews, images or accounts from a variety of people who have experienced the events leading up to and during the war.
Lots of characters throughout, some better developed than others. Initially we have a variety of different stories assembled here to show the rise of the robots: Archos’s birth, an old Japanese man in love with a robot, a robot that goes amok in a frogurt shop, another who kills whilst working for the military in Afghanistan, others that were children’s toys that do something much more sinister, strange excavations in the Arctic.
The middle part of the book is about the effects of Zero Hour, the point at which super-computer Archos decided it could run things better independently, for the good of humans. We meet some of the previous characters, or their relatives, as the world comes to grips with a world run by mechanoids, who puny humans rather stupidly created and gave jobs to.
Lastly, the last two sections are about the war between humans and the leading of the human resistance against the Robs leading to a showdown in Alaska against Archos.
For a book with such a provocatively enthusiastic title and one that’s supposedly cutting edge science fiction, it is perhaps in the end rather mundane. It’s not a bad read, but nor is it a particularly original one.
Written by a robot programmer, it is as you might expect – enthusiastic, and efficient, yet in the end surprisingly unemotional and even rather clinical. Whilst the variety of the different points of view in each chapter is potentially interesting and the ideas in the novel are often great, there’s actually not a lot of depth behind the action, and the dialogue and narrative in particular generally leaves a lot to be desired in its banality and predictability, especially in the last sections where the book concentrates around the viewpoint of Wallace. I suspect many readers will balk at this aspect of the novel.
The way that the characters in the stories intertwine appears a little forced, though the situation is explained by Cormac Wallace’s selection of what information is available. There is an introduction and an ending from Wallace to each story. The overall impression is that of a series of stories linked together by an overarching timeframe. This was a writing technique very common in the 1950’s, when the stories were often published separately before being put together as a novel.
Perhaps the biggest problem I found with such a technique here is that there is little variation with each story. The style and tone of each tale are very similar, to the point of repetition. Consequently they tend to blend or even bland out, even when there is a mix between human and non-human narratives, which I’m not sure was their point.
In the end, it’s the sort of fast-paced, action-heavy, dialogue-clichéd story that reads like a novel based on a game or a movie outline. It has, perhaps not unexpectedly, drawn the attention of Steven Spielberg and is due in the cinema in April 2014.
Mark Yon, June 2012