- Chuck Gray
My first thought upon reading the description of Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse was "Terminator rip-off." But I kept thinking, "Robots and the apocalypse, two of my favorite things to read about in fiction." I'm not making that up. And really, anything after Terminator 2 in the franchise doesn't, in my mind, count. I've always wanted a lot more detail about how the robot uprising occurs and how people struggle in the coming war, especially people who are not John Connor. After reading Robopocalypse, I want to assure you that it is as far removed from Terminator lore as anything "robot apocalypse" could possibly be. If you're someone who likes to be frightened and enjoys books where the mundane is made decidedly strange, then you might enjoy Robopocalypse.
The book starts out just after what is auspiciously the end of the war with the robots. One of the main characters of the book, Cormac "Bright Boy" Wallace happens upon a robot artifact that contains a massive archive detailing the entirety of the war right from its inception as the malevolent and sentient AI ARCHOS is born. Cormac goes on to transcribe what he views as the key moments of the war directly from the artifact. In the following chapters, the story is told, transcript-style, from the experiences of several key players in the war all over the world, including Japan, Afghanistan, London, Washington, D.C., New York, a Native American reservation, and Alaska.
Around the world, technology begins to turn on people in a murderous fashion and ever growing numbers. Though this is quite scary, it would have been scarier if the author had found some way to set this not in a distant future where domestic robots are extremely commonplace, but right now in 2011. I and I'm sure others have some doubts that anthropomorphized robots making a visit to the convenience store for us at 11 PM will ever be a part of mainstream consumer culture. As such, I wasn't anywhere near as scared as I would have liked. If smart phones found ways to hypnotize us into brutalizing each other or GPS units all started driving us off incomplete bridges or iPads manufactured with C4 began to blowing people up, I might have been scared. But I just don't see the robot future happening quite as clearly as other future speculators. If you do, I think you'll be wonderfully frightened.
This was a short book for the kind of story it was telling. At only 347 pages, there were too many characters spread out over too few pages to really come to care about any of them very much. Maybe we're not supposed to care, given the style of writing, but I would have liked to. A book like this deserves to be much more fleshed-out and highly detailed. The stories told were also almost entirely from the point of view of the humans, but considering this is meant to be a transcription from an archive of the entire robot war, some details about the robots' side of things might have been satisfying.
Despite all this, I did enjoy reading Robopocalypse and was disappointed when it was over so soon. The possibility was included for a sequel and if it does ever come, I'll be interested to see what format the author chooses. Robopocalypse is the equivalent of a summer special effects blockbuster: it's really quite enjoyable the first time, but there's little re-reading value to be had here and it's just not quite potent enough to stick with you. A good book to check out from the library, to be sure.