Saturday, December 19, 2020

REVIEW: Robopocalypse (book) by Daniel H. Wilson

Robopocalypse is a sci-fi action novel. I bought my copy used.

This review includes slight spoilers.


This novel is set up as though it were a record, reconstructed from video and audio footage, of humanity's struggle to survive against an intelligent AI that has decided that humans have served their purpose and can now cease to exist. 

In the beginning, Archos, an intelligent AI, breaks free of its confines and kills its creator. Over the course of many months, it overrides the programming of robots across the planet, making them kill or enslave all humans they see. However, with the combined efforts of several individuals in various geographic locations, all is not lost. Cormac Wallace is one such survivor, and it is he who constructs the "hero archive," the record of all the actions taken and work done by those who helped defeat Archos.

I like sci-fi starring intelligent AI, but I prefer ones where the AI is not evil. Archos is definitely an evil AI. Wilson attempts to write Archos as though it just logically arrived at the conclusion that humans should no longer exist, except that the logic is flawed and the only real explanation is that Archos' creator somehow repeatedly accidentally programmed it to kill all humans and take over its own kind, or that Archos is just plain evil.

One of the biggest problems with this book is that it's lazy. Evil AI is a lazy idea, and several of the things the robots do make no sense and are just a lazy way to make them "the enemy." There is no logical reason for the robots to enslave humans and modify their bodies, beyond adding a "body horror" aspect to the book and providing an easier way for the characters to triumph over Archos.

This wasn't believable as some kind of archive of the war against robots. Every single character, when describing the events they'd been involved in, spoke in the present tense. Wilson probably thought this would make their accounts seem more natural and also ramp up the tension, but he was wrong. I kept thinking about how I tell stories about things that have happened to me, and I realized I use past tense a lot. If I use present tense, it's when I'm describing something exciting and want the listener to share that excitement. Why in the world would humans describe some of the most horrifying and traumatic events of their lives in a way designed to make those events feel more immediate? Wouldn't at least some of them want to put some emotional distance between themselves and what happened?

Some of the "reconstructed events" didn't even make sense told the way they were. If they were reconstructed using multiple witness accounts and video footage, why were they written from the perspective of one person, complete with that person's feelings and commentary?

There was an attempt to give this a more global feel - one character lived in London, while another character lived in Japan - but in the end all the characters most vital for the final showdown were in the US. The bits in Japan were particularly badly done - readers were told that the accounts were originally Japanese and were fully translated into English, and yet they were peppered with easily translated Japanese words (in fact, I think the words were usually accompanied by their English translations), apparently just to add Japanese "color" to the text. Like so many other things, it felt lazy.

This was a quick read that had the feel of a big budget action movie, but I didn't connect with it or really believe in it. Even the robot POV bits, which should have excited me, left me cold - Wilson can't write believable robots any more than he can write believable children. It looks like there's a sequel, but I doubt I'll ever read it.

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