Review: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Robopocalypse
Daniel H. Wilson

Doubleday (2011)
347 pages
Science Fiction / Post-Apocalypse / ROBOTS!

Purchase it here from Amazon

If you’ve been to Working for the Mandroid a couple of times, you probably realize that I have a fondness for robots.  I’m fascinated by the potential for robotics in general and there are a lot of really cute robots in pop culture.  I mean, how could I not love this little guy?

I’ve wanted one of those little guys for years.  He’s adorable.  It’s not just because he dances to Spoon songs and Britt Daniels is sort of following him around.  Robots are awesome.

Then I read Robopocalypse and now I’m afraid that my car is planning to kill me.

This book is absolutely terrifying.  If you already fear robots or believe robots might one day attempt to rule the human race, STAY AWAY FROM THIS BOOK!  I like robots and it gave me chills more than once.  From nearly the very beginning until the final pages, I was so deeply invested in this story and it still surprised me page after page.

Robopocalypse is a collection of interconnected stories starting about a year before the robot uprising and continuing until the end of the war.  The conceit of the story is that a soldier named Cormac finds a metallic robotic object that projects scenes that various robots and cameras collected through the war.  It’s basically a cube of memory and a sort of projector.  In order to have some recorded history of the war, Cormac writes down the scenes that he’s seeing, adding his own prefaces and conclusions to fill in missing details and fit pieces together.

The first section – titled “Isolated Incidences” – introduces a series of seemingly unrelated characters, including a soldier in Afghanistan, a cop in Oklahoma, a hacker in London, an old man who works at a factory in Japan, and a little girl who’s the daughter of a Senator trying to pass legislation against robots.  The very first chapter introduces us to Archos, a computer program that takes on the voice of a young boy.  After discovering that his scientist creator had created previous versions of him only to destroy them when he didn’t receive the results he wanted, Archos breaks through his Faraday cage, kills the scientist and essentially starts planning on righting what it sees as the wrongs of the human race. 

Throughout the next four sections, our disparate characters cross paths in surprising ways and contribute to a growing human resistance as the robots take over.  There are so many specific things that left me horrified and gave me nightmares, but they’re all spoilers so I won’t go into them here.  After my usual grade at the bottom of this review, I do spoil some big things that freaked me out the most as well as a narrative twist that I really enjoyed.

I cannot believe how many people have given it bad reviews on Goodreads.  A lot of them complain that it is a lot of exposition and details over action.  My response to that is that the horror is in the details.  It’s all told in first person in the present tense, despite most of the “scenes” being someone describing events that happened in the past.  By putting it in the present tense, it allows for more narrative tension and feels more real.  I also completely disagree about a lack of action.  The battles between human and robot are so well described and plotted that I needed a moment of downtime after each of them concluded.

There are a few things I don’t quite understand, first being what was powering all these robots.  There’s mention of Archos’ power source, but there are millions of robots in this book.  What were they running on?  Were all the other robots just multiple bodies for Archos or did they have individualized sentience but were completely devoted to their overlord?  But in the end, the answers to those questions don’t matter to me because I was so tied up and carried away by what was happening that I didn’t care so much about the details behind it.

Daniel H. Wilson has a Ph.D. in Robotics and it shows.  I believed it all.  Maybe it’s just my fanaticism for science fiction in general and robots specifically, but I could believe that this could all happen at some point in our future.  As horrifying as it is, I truly believe that something could take over the computers in all our cars and cause them to chase us all down, that helper ‘bots would turn on their owners and that military bases would be completely screwed.  I also like that, for the most part, Wilson focused on robots versus humans and didn’t heavily feature the inevitable human versus human conflicts that would arise in a situation like this.  There are a few mentions, but it’s not a focus.

There is blood and violence and some really disturbing events in this book.  I got chills more than once while reading it and found my brain shutting down in certain moments when Wilson goes to places I didn’t think he would go.  To me those are signs of a really great book.  There are absolutely awful ways to die that I wouldn’t have fathomed before.  I cannot stop thinking about this book and want everyone to read it though I know it might be too much for many people.

And now that I’ve freaked myself out again, have another adorable video of Keepon dancing to Spoon (he has no limbs, so he’s pretty safe):

Honestly I would give this book six or seven stars on Goodreads if I could.  I wish I could have sat down and read it all in one go instead of spreading it out over a few days.  Now I want to read everything that Daniel H. Wilson has touched, including his nonfiction work.  He has scarred me for life and I loved every minute of it.

 

A+

Thoroughly disturbing and realistic; manages to tie together seemingly unrelated stories; compelling narrator and even more compelling secondary characters

 

I got this book from the library.  I returned it today before it decided to come alive and eat me in my sleep.

 

This book fulfills a piece of my WFTM 2012 Sci-Fi Reader Challenge among other challenges.

 

 

GIANT SPOILER ALERT!

I can’t leave this alone without saying something about the robot zombies.  I didn’t think the book could freak me out any more than it had and then it throws at me dead soldiers being controlled by robots attached to their backs.  I was left completely dumbfounded and afraid to continue.  This book is horrifying.  And genius.

And of course there’s the little girl with the robot eyes.  The poor girl who was traumatized by a talking baby doll that threatened to kill her little brother then gets implanted with metallic eyes.  I think she's my favorite character despite having limited "screen time".

Also I loved that before it was all over, some of the robots became "good” again, sentient beings outside of Archos’ control.  Despite the horrific mental trauma I experienced with all the robot violence, I still could cheer for the robot friends of the human resistance.  I also liked that, ultimately, it was a sentient robot who ended the robot uprising.  I think that allowed the story to come full circle in a realistic way while still being completely surprising.