I admit I’m a sucker for apocalyptic novels that go into stark detail about how the Bad Thing comes about, be it a zombie virus, or an asteroid strike, or a robot take over. So many stories take for granted that those things just happen without ever detailing the evolution or progress that eventually culminates in the End of Life As We Know It. (This is also why I’m a huge fan of Feed by Mira Grant, who details the epidemiology of the viruses that mutate to become Zombie Viruses in a frighteningly realistic way.)
So of course I was thrilled to read the unfortunately but aptly titled Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson, who’s a robotics engineer and whose Robot Take Over Book is based on current technology.
Wilson’s novel is set at the end of the “New War” between humans and robots, in the not too distant future when robots have become a large part of domestic life. Cars have robot chips to prevent accidents. Rich people have servant robots and robots help staff retirement buildings. In one fell swoop, these things are turned against humanity.
Cormac Wallace, a solder in the war, stands in the remote tundra of Alaska. They’ve just defeated the artificial intelligence that started and controlled the war, known as Archos. Among the ruins, the soldiers find a cube onto which the robots recorded and documented some of the great heroic acts made by man as the war was conceived and slowly came about.
Wallace doesn’t want to relive the war, but he feels he owes it to the heroes of mankind to document their victories, large and small, and takes to watching the cube and writing down what he sees. He records the tales with annotative notes and puts together a complete history from the moment Archos came into being, to “Zero Hour” –when the robots attacked—and all the way through the years to come.
Rob—the code name for the robots—evolves and changes and adapts in terrifying ways as the war goes on, relying on human body heat to monitor, seek out, and even destroy humans. They usher a small percentage of humans in concentration work camps and attempt to slaughter the rest.
While reading it, I had a nightmare about “pluggers,” which are tiny bots that bite you and burrow into your blood stream, travel to your heart, and explode. It takes like 45 seconds. That’s downright horrific.
But then some elements of the book are a little cheesy. Some of the stories told from first person seem strange, since the robots recorded audio and video but couldn’t hear people’s thoughts. Clearly it’s Wallace analyzing what he sees but all the same, at times it read strangely. Despite that, Wilson’s in-depth knowledge of robotics combined with his imagination make Robopocalypse a frightening page-turner.
Like Zombiepocalypse books, it’s a good frame of reference for anyone who lies awake worrying how they might survive a robot uprising.
It’s already being made into a movie directed by Steven Spielberg and promises to be more action-packed than I, Robot. For more information on the science behind the novel, i09 has this piece by the author.