Title – Robopocalypse
Author – Daniel H Wilson
Published – 2011
Genre – Science Fiction
Robopocalypse is a book that starts at the end, in fact twenty minutes after then end of the war between humans and robots. The action isn’t all over, though, and there are a few tense moments while we meet some of the members of “Brightboy”. Our narrator is Cormac Wallace – the current ‘sarge’ in charge of the Brightboy squad. In the moments after the end of the war they have discovered a mysterious object just a short distance from the lair of the architect of the robot uprising. Despite the squad’s concerns the box isn’t hostile, in fact it’s the ‘black box’ of the whole war – recordings, video and audio, images and conversations, which were made during the course of the war. And here we go back to the beginning, to the start of the robot uprising as Cormac decides to transcribe what he refers to as the hero archive.
So 10 pages in and the book takes us to the very start of the rebellion. The transcription is used as a device to tell the reader key events from the first moment that “Rob” started to take control and the first fatality he claimed through to the end and back to where we started. Cormac is the constant thread in the story as he introduces each chapter and puts it into context. This gives the sequence of events that lead up to the war and introduces a series of key characters who play vital roles in the battle against the robots. Some of them are recurring and some only have the chance to appear once.
The story is a really easy read and I thought the author had a very enjoyable writing style. Finding out that he has a Ph.D. in robotics made me worry that there would be too much technical detail – but there were no lengthy descriptions and I never felt that I couldn’t picture what was happening. In fact the book would have been pretty similar with aliens, or zombies, but the use of robots and the author’s expertise should perhaps serve as a warning that this is the more realistic scenario to worry about.
I particularly liked the sense of humour too. For example, when faced with robots killing people inNew York cityone couple consider trying to escape for the relative safety of the countryside. The response is “We’ve never even gone camping.” How many books and movies have people leaving suburbia for the country as if they’ve been studying survival skills for just such an occasion?
And I’m still puzzling over what seems like a chance remark, but I think is the premise on which the book hangs. When there is the first flicker of intelligent life from the man-made “Archos” it becomes clear that the scientist initiating the project had provided it with vast amounts of data. Yet Archos says “I sense that my records of human history have been heavily edited” and the scientist replies that “we don’t want you to get the wrong impression of us”. At the end of the book Archos says “…humanity learns true lessons only in cataclysm. Humankind is a species born in battle, defined by war.” What was left out, and if it hadn’t been left out would the rebellion have started, or would Archos have not come into existence? I’d be interested to know if this really is a critical aspect of the story.
Archos isn’t an enemy hell-bent on destruction; it tries to learn from nature and its actions in removing humans, either by killing or interring in labour camps begin to show positive signs for the earth. But then it starts to “modify” people and combine human and robots.
If I have any criticism of the book it’s perhaps that the idea of the transcription of the archive is a great device for telling the story, but when the story is then told in the first person by the various characters it doesn’t feel consistent.
I found this a very easy and enjoyable read. I’ve seen on the web that Steven Spielberg is planning to direct the film of Robopocalpyse – that’s one movie I won’t want to miss! But I hope he chooses a title that’s easier to say.
Score – 4/5 (although if I indulged in 1/2 marks I’d go for 4½!)