Tag Archives: robots

Common Mistakes YA Dystopian Novels Make

In MY first YA Dytopian novel, animatronic dinosaurs take over and people have to fight the robot dinos to survive. In Space.

I was talking to a friend the other day about all of the recent dystopian novels that have come out and tried to tout themselves as “The Next Hunger Games!” It’s a silly, but understandable marketing tactic, because people are always looking for the next big THING.

The Next Harry Potter or the Next Twilight or whatever THING is going to be the year’s newest break out money-machine. It’s impossible to predict, of course, and the fact that so many dystopian YA novels came out recently is less due to The Hunger Games than weird market trends and coincidence. Besides, the next THING is never the same as the earlier THING (Twilight was not like Harry Potter, really at all).

But it got me thinking about all of the Dystopian Books I’ve read in the last year or so, and why some work better than others. Obviously, this is a list of what didn’t work for me as a reader, and is no way meant to be universal. These are just the same gripes I tend to have with a lot of Dystopian Books (and, sometimes, in the whole YA market). I would love to hear what elements worked or didn’t work for you, especially if any of them are deal breakers.

Book One Lacks An Ending

This is the new biggest sin awful trend in the YA world if you ask me. Not only are lots of books coming out that are super short because they’re the start of a series that could probably be one novel, but they’re coming out with cliff hanger endings that don’t bother to conclude the first part of the story. There’s nothing wrong with leaving some loose ends and unanswered questions, especially in an intended series. I’m talking about books that literally lack an ending. They might as well print the last page with the words “DUN DUN DUN….” It happens a lot in dystopian novels, especially, and this is a problem there for one main reason (besides, you know, the fact that a book has no end):

Leaving dystopian novels with a million questions hanging in the balance creates the feeling of shoddy world building. It doesn’t matter if the author has maps and entire histories for this Awful Future charted out on their wall. When none of the reader’s questions about how, when, why are answered in the first book, it makes the book feel hollow and lacking.

Characters Raised in the Dystopian Society Still Oddly Shocked & Awed By It

This is a personal pet peeve of mine, but it comes up in so many dystopians that it breaks my brain. A character who’s lived their entire life under the Evil Overlord who makes everyone where Pink Sweaters on Tuesdays is not going to be outraged by the fact that mom set out a pink sweater for Tuesday morning. They just won’t.

And yes, anyone might be alarmed when something that happens all of the time to strangers–say, being arrested quietly in the middle of the night–happens to their own friends or family. But when someone is used to drills or spot checks or whatever has a Fit of Righteous Indignation during one of these, I get irked. As a writer, I think what these authors are trying to do is  show what a moral center the character is by detailing their outrage at the Bad Guys. But it often doesn’t jive with how the protagonist should react, at least until they have some larger revelation about the world they live in. Say what you will about Matched, but at least Cassia’s mindset made perfect sense given the world she was raised in.

Alternatively, you have characters who, by all rights, should be extremely genre savvy, like kids who have grown up surrounded by zombies/rebels/robots/random bad future thing and should know how to survive in such situations. Like, it’s probably taught in their schools (if they have schools). But then you end up with characters like Mary, from The Forest of Hands and Teeth, who literally cuddles a zombie baby and then taunts the zombies beyond the fence. TAUNTS THEM. I mean…. I just… That is Too Stupid to Live territory from a girl who knows better because she knows what zombies are and how they happen.

A Love Triangle Romance That’s Wedged in Is Really Not Necessary

I know, I know. Romantic tension is awesome and the love triangle thing has worked so well. But really, if it doesn’t happen naturally as you start drafting your characters, and even if it does, you have to ask yourself if it’s really crucial to the book. Because if no one cares whether Lucy ends up with James or Thomas, but are forced to read pages and pages of Lucy trying to decide whether she likes James’ aloof and quiet demeanor more than Thomas’ quick wit and sexy lips, they will toss the book out the window.

I started this section with love triangles, but really it applies to all romances that feel forced or weird, especially when they come at the expensive of actual plot/interesting things happening around them. I’d really rather read about the Robot Army laying seige to the Dragon Lord’s castle than why Sir Allen has the best hair and tastes like strawberries due to his love of fruit gum.

And I say this as a pathetic, full-on shipping fangirl who will sink with the Good Ship Tamani in the world of Wings before I ever accept David might have been the right dude. I like romance! I even like good love triangles! But not when it feels forced in for the sake of having one.

The World Building Does Not Exist or Makes No Sense

Look, a book set in a future where Alien Unicorns have taken over the world and burned all of our technology except digital watches and make us grow rainbow colored hay to ward off the evil SeaHorses who are allergic to the color red might be the Best New THING to hit book shelves. But if the reader can’t believe how the Alien Unicorns took over without opposable thumbs (let alone built space ships), it won’t work. And yes, that’s a ridiculous example, and this goes back to the first point, but seriously. Leaving the entire world situation vague and unexplained does not make it suspenseful, it makes it frustrating.

Eve does this: a generic “plague” decimates the populous and a strange government with a King of America is set up in under 30 years. Despite the pointless years Eve spends in school (until she’s 18) she never even gives the reader the government’s official version of events, and we’re left wondering what happened. (Maybe Once, its sequel, answers more questions, I haven’t read it yet.)

It also has to make sense. Pledge is set hundreds of years in the future and we’re never given so much as a hint about why the only acceptable government leader is a Queen, or how America became divided by class languages. Even just a few lines about the ancient past of our present day would make the experience so much richer, rather than plunking down the system and saying “Eh! It’s in the future. Who knows how it happened?”

The best books, regardless of genre, have detailed and thoughtful worlds built into them to give the story depth, but it’s so important in a dystopia to show how the world of present day got to The Evil Awful Future.


So now you have some of my thoughts. And I am out of thoughts. Time to watch The Glee Project and see if I can avoid crying when whoever is sent home has to do the Sad Walk Away.


OryCon Panel: Playing God – Apocalyptic Storytelling

What I love about dsytopian stories the most is learning how they got there. What apocalyptic scenario destroyed the previous status quo, and how did it happen? How did the virus spread? How did the government fall? So I was excited to hear some expert writers discuss that moment of total destruction and what follows.

Our panelists: Daniel H. Wilson, E.E. Knight, and Victoria Blake (not pictured)

Daniel H. Wilson has a background in engineering and is the author of How to Survive a Robot Uprising and Robopocalypse. E.E. Knight is the bestselling author of the dystopian series Vampire Earth, as well as the Age of Fire novels. Victoria Blake is the founder and publisher of Underland Press, and previously worked for Darkhorse Comics.

The panel began with a basic definition of “apocalypse” from Knight: it means revelation and since it appears in the Book of Revelation, the Bible book about the end times, it’s come to be synonymous with “end of the world.” So let’s start with the favorite apocalyptic scenario.

“Robots,” says Wilson, who thinks it’s a fun scenario because he knows all about robots and we really do have this technology. There’s SIRI and cars that park themselves, and it’s scary to think of those being turned against us. “We’re totally [immersed] in technology. Taking it away is really fun because it tears our world apart.”

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First Impressions: Tiger & Bunny

Fortune Cookie over at Defective Geeks is often my go to for when I need a new anime to check out. Most recently, she recommended Tiger & Bunny, which is available subbed on Hulu. Huzzah!

I’ve only watched one episode so far, and really, that’s the most important episode for me – it determines whether or not I will keep watching in a big way. I’m sure it’s like that for a lot of people too, so I here are my first impressions of this anime in case you aren’t sure if this is one for you!

Episode 1: All’s Well That Ends Well – beware of spoilers!

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Review: Robopocalypse: A history and survival guide.

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.