Darnell's Reviews > Robopocalypse

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
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Sep 19, 2011

did not like it
Read from August 22 to September 19, 2011

Finishing this book was an uphill climb.

Robopocalypse is reflective of everything that's wrong with cinema today. Characters sound all the same, filling in archetypes. It's more interested in creating set pieces than exploring humanity's ethics through what will be one of our greatest creation: artificial intelligence.

Instead of a morality play, which is why anyone really ever cares about robot uprising stories, we see an AI get pissed because it got "killed" many times over as its makers played with it and were freaked out by it. Then, it decides to play with life and death by turning everything with a wifi receiver into a killing machine. Why? Wilson thinks his AI overload Archos ("Master" in Greek. What were these scientists thinking when they named their AI?) is exploring its humanity. But it says things like "I finally understood that humanity learns true lessons only in cataclysm. Humankind is species born in battle, defined by war..." Archos comes across as one of those malevolent and omnipotent energy clouds found in one out of five Star Trek episodes. In fact, there's nothing a good Patrick Stewart Speech couldn't have solved.

Except Archos is right about how crappy the humans in this novel are. There's Cormac the tough-talking kid from Boston. Jack his tough-talking brother. Cherrah, the tough-talking babe that Cormac is into. Carl, the tough-talking techie nerd. Lark Iron Cloud, a tough-talking Native American kid who turns a gang into an Army, then disappears for 60 pages only to return a zombie. Lonnie and Paul Blanton, the tough-talking father/son team who both also vanish in the final third of the book. There's not a single character to root for because Robopocolypse reads like a novel written by a robot, it's not only devoid of human emotion, it doesn't understand it. Then, to make matters worse, we're introduced to chapters narrated by a robot! Arbiter thinks and talks just like the Congresswoman, the soldier, the civilians, the old Japanese roboticist, the 10-year-old girl with LaForge Vision, and anyone else with an account of the war.

Slogging through this book, the only thing left to hang my hat on is seeing how humans kick robot ass, right? No, that stuff happens off-screen. Rather, we spend a short chapter with a character as they over-describe situations, then Cormac concludes each chapter with a paragraph on how important someone's actions were to the war effort. This robs us of being a part of the actual war! It's the most infuriating thing about "Robopocolypse." In the end, the humans don't even defeat Archos. It's another robot. That's right, the humans are fairly useless. (BTW, I don't think that counts as a spoiler because the book discloses that Archo loses in the prologue, robbing the book of urgency). The robots literally and figuratively do all the heavy lifting while the humans just sit around and watch events unfold. It's like the Transformers movies all over again.

I will admit that the first parts of the book leading up to the uprising is most exciting. Robots go awry. Cars drive their passengers to their death. But again, as the world ends around the main characters, we get nothing but their observations. What does it feel like when you are driving your kids to safety and you witness another family trapped in their vehicles and they crash?

Superficial and robotic, Robopocalypse is a total waste of time. Even a thrill ride should be able to explore higher themes. I've had late-night chats with friends about the AI ethics and time pardoxes of The Terminator. The reason I keep comparing this to films is because this really wants to be a movie, not a book. The most exciting thing about it is its cover.
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message 1: by Bogydog (new)

Bogydog Fair enough, and a fantastic write-up, champion. Personally, I would give it more stars than you, but maybe only one or two. As a whole, the book is clearly designed to be adapted to film, as it is just a series of (as you said) set-pieces versus a real story. That being said, a number of the pieces are gripping and sometimes terrifying. But, you're right in that the book fails absolutely as a whole. The biggest problem with this book is that WORLD WAR Z was already written, and took a somewhat similar topic with an exact-similar approach, but forgot to be smart about it.


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