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Home > Book, Book Review, Reviews, Sci-Fi > Book Review – Robopocalypse: A Novel by Daniel H. Wilson

Book Review – Robopocalypse: A Novel by Daniel H. Wilson

Book Description:

They 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.

DANIEL H. WILSON earned a Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University. He is the author of such nonfiction works as How to Survive a Robot Uprising.

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Robopocalypse: A Novel by Daniel H. Wilson is like James Cameron’s Terminator meets Max Brooks’ World War Z. I really wanted to read this novel since a) I love post-apocalyptic fiction and b) it’s about rogue robots! Total win, right? So, I was so happy to get a copy on my birthday!

Weeeell, maybe it was my heightened expectations (for example, the SciFi author Cory Doctorow gave it high points in his review) – but my reaction was mostly a feeling of being letdown after reading it. Don’t get me wrong, Robopocalypse starts out pretty strong. I really enjoyed the first part where different otherwise benign robots started acting up (the creepy talking doll that threatens a little girl, for example), and it all builds up to the ‘Zero Day’ where the robots controlled by a central AI ‘Archos’ start exterminating all humans (or enslaving us). It was scary because it does seem very plausible that someone smart enough could hijack modern technology (smart phones, smart cars, military & industrial robots etc) and start using them against us.

The book is written in the same style as World War Z in that each chapter is a vignette about the war although World War Z was wholly an oral history and really showed a Zombie apocalypse on a global scale. In Robopocalypse, the history is supposedly compiled by a survivor (the soldier Cormack Wallace) who finds and transcribes the entire account based on a ‘block box’ of sorts that Archos itself recorded. The chapters are mainly descriptions of surveillance camera footage interspersed with transcriptions of interviews or first person accounts, with added commentary from Cormack (who it turns out is a very central figure in the war against the robots). The author Daniel H. Wilson chose to highlight mostly certain recurring characters – a ragtag band of freedom fighters in the US, Afghanistan, London and Japan – so we kind of follow almost the same people from the time Archos launches its extermination plan, until three years later when the war ends. There’s good and bad points to this approach – we get to see character growth and how people change to survive, but on the negative side, we end up with a very narrow view of the war. We miss out on what was happening to the rest of the world basically.

It’s mostly the latter third of the book that I found disappointing. I don’t know, maybe it was because none of the freedom fighters resonated with me personally (so I wasn’t so invested in their survival) or I just found the events harder and harder to believe in the end (Archos makes some very stupid choices that I couldn’t believe a computer would make). Or maybe the author lost me when he introduced ‘freeborn’ robots – robots that are essentially self-aware and uncontrolled by the central AI. I’m not exactly sure why I had no problem with one central AI going rogue and controlling everything, but couldn’t believe a scenario where lightning strikes twice, and another inventor manages to create another self-aware robot, who then manages to infect other robots with this self-awareness (hence the ‘freeborn’ name).

I just felt that the book was like a marathon where the runner sprints winningly at the start but then runs out of steam (ie. good ideas) before the end. On the other hand, Robopocalypse may soon be coming to a theatre near you (Steven Spielberg has already optioned it) and I have a feeling it will work better as a summer blockbuster movie.

Robopocalypse: A Novel by Daniel H. Wilson is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition ($12.99), Hardcover edition ($15.00), and Audible Audio Edition ($26.95).

The eBook is also available at B&N, Sony and iBooks for $12.99 and Kobo books for $14.49.

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  1. July 22, 2011 at 5:45 am

    I really enjoyed reading your review on this book as I just finished it myself. I felt the same way. It started out great and then just kinda died. My favorite part was also the creepy doll.
    Here is my review if you are interested: http://deadtreesandsilverscreens.blogspot.com/2011/07/book-review-robopocalypse-or-just-let.html

    • July 25, 2011 at 9:57 am

      Thanks for the feedback – yeah, this is one book that would make a better movie 🙂

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