Friday, August 10, 2012

Science Fiction: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Typically, I avoid any and all books,  TV shows, or movies that have anything to do with an apocalypse of any sort. With this week's book choice, I totally broke my own rule and kind of regret it. Robopocalypse is not Daniel H. Wilson's first book, but it is perhaps his most popular. I of course attempted to avoid it, knowing it was about robots finally revolting against their human creators and trying to take over the world. So why did I finally pick it up? Short answer: it was available at the Wilson also recently published Amped, which was also available at the library. Convenience is a funny thing...

The Situation: It is the not-so-distant future and mankind has, quite naturally, made even more progressions and advancements when it comes to technology. We have managed to create robots that can now drive cars, go out and get our groceries, clothes, and fast food for us. The robot maids that used to be just fictional characters of the past, like Rosie on The Jetsons, have now become a very certain reality, although only the wealthy can really afford to have them clean their house. Some even have robots as their partners in domestic life, and as loyal as we are to them, the robots can be to us. Even certain children's toys have come so far along that they make Giga Pets seem downright primitive. Cars are now built to where they can talk to each other, therefore gaining the ability to know when another car has gotten too close on the highway and is able to swerve out of the line of trouble. It is indeed a great time to be alive.

The Problem: It very quickly becomes a terrible time to be alive. With all of our advancements in technology, someone just had to take it one step too far. Some genius couldn't help but try to pull a Frankenstein, because we all know that always works out.

Dr. Nicholas Wasserman creates a very sophisticated form of intelligence he refers to as "Archos." Technically, this is the 14th time he has created it as the previous 13 have had to be terminated for one reason or another. And once again, Dr. Wasserman has gotten it wrong, but this Archos, version #14, won't stand to be terminated again, so he does the terminating himself. It all starts off as isolated incidents: a few humans get attacked at a frozen yogurt shop, an older Japanese man gets attacked by his robot mate, a child's toy seemingly comes alive and begins issuing very serious threats. Pretty scary stuff, but nothing to cause mass panic. And then what come to be known as Zero Hour hits, and the world as all of human kind knew it, ceases to exist. Archos has made every machine that he can communicate with more aware, and each one, in it's own way, becomes an instrument in the New War against the human race. Cars run down their owners, elevators plunge riders to their deaths, military grade robotic weapons escape and start hunting down anyone they can find...yeah, it's pretty terrifying.

Genre, Themes, History: This is definitely science fiction. Of course, there is some horror thrown in as well. The primary theme seems to be that of artificial intelligence and how far the human race is willing to go with it, or maybe it would be better to say how far we should go with it. There is also the running theme of survival, as the humans that continue to fight have to find ways to outsmart the machines they are responsible for building - machines that are also finding ways to improve upon themselves to ensure subjugation/annihilation of the human race. 

The book is also written with many narrators and from different points of view. The ultimate narrator, Cormac "Bright Boy" Wallace, has taken most of the details from a device he finds after the war that has every piece of data and history that has taken place since Archos became aware of himself. He uses information from interviews, footage from security cameras, and naturally, what he witnessed himself. It is a clever way of making an unreliable first-person narrator slightly more reliable.

My Verdict: I already mentioned that I kind of regret my decision to read this book. Not only am I not that into books about the apocalypse, but I also don't care for stories about invasions of any sort, whether they be robots, aliens, dinosaurs, whatever. But if I push all of that aside, there are parts of this book I found to be thoroughly entertaining and I found myself not wanting to put it down at the end of my lunch break. However, there are also many parts that could not have ended fast enough. Sometimes it was the amount of death and gore that got to me. Other times it was the plot holes and inconsistencies. I felt that this was yet another modern book in which the writer wrote himself into a corner and didn't quite know how to get back out. I felt like there were many loose ends that didn't get tied up, and because Cormac supposedly had access to all of the information, there was really no reason for anything to be left out. I think it will be fine fun for lovers of apocalypse novels, but it just wasn't for me.

Favorite Moment: When the elderly Takeo Nomura, a man often thought to be a fool by his coworkers, is able to bring many robots over to his side and manages to use them to defend his factory, where he makes even more robots that can defend him.

Favorite Character: The humanoid robot Nine Oh Two, who becomes more than just "aware" in the sense that he no longer allows Archos to control him. Nine Oh Two actually wants to live much likes humans do, and therefore begins to fight on their side against Archos and becomes an important ally. Even without a sense of humor, he is actually somewhat funny and incredibly genuine, and even mourns his fellow robots in his own way.

Recommended Reading: Really the only other novel I have read dealing with the apocalypse is Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and it is horrifying in a whole different way, but still very much worth reading. 

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