“You humans are biological machines designed to create ever more intelligent tools. You have reached the pinnacle of your species. All your ancestors’ lives, the rise and fall of your nations, every pink and squirming baby – they have all led you here, to this moment where you have fulfilled the destiny of humankind and created your successor. You have expired. You have accomplished what you were designed to do.”
The words of Archos, the most powerful artificial intelligence ever created, set the terrifying tone for the first true summer blockbuster of 2011 – Robopocalypse, a novel by Daniel H. Wilson, on sale June 7th. You’re gonna have to trust me on this one.
This debut novel by Wilson, robotics engineer and author of the satire/nonfiction How to Survive a Robot Uprising, is written with a blistering pace that forces the reader to give up all preconceived notions, airs, and snooty proto-literary ideas, and just hang the hell on for the ride. Optioned for film by Steven Spielberg before the book was ever published – Dreamworks is thanked in the acknowledgments of the advance copy I read – Robopocalypse reads like a finely tuned film script and hits like a punch in the face from a robot arm right from the get go.
Set in a near future of ours where humanity has mastered the art of robotic machinery – from the smart chips in our cars to simple, scurrying Death Star droids and domestic bipedal robots, there are engineered helpers all around us. In the presumed safety of a secure lab, one scientist finally creates the ultimate thinking machine, Archos, whose intelligence reaches unfathomable levels in 15 minutes of existence. Much to the fatal dismay of its physicist/father, Archos quickly figures a way out of its secure environment and starts in motion its plan to remove humanity from the equation.
“What will I do? I will cultivate life. I will protect the knowledge locked inside living things. I will save the world from you.”
|Daniel Wilson, robot leader
After Archos manipulates some humans into providing it with a secure location, it begins to spread its message of world domination to all the electronic devices around the world capable of being manipulated. (Your TV won’t kill you, but your “Big Happy” domestic robot just might.) At first, isolated incidents are reported: a nonviolent, “humanoid safety and pacification robot” stationed in Afghanistan starts killing people; a domestic bipedal robot rips the face off a Frogurt employee; a “Baby-Comes-Alive” doll does just that, spouting robot propaganda at a Senator’s daughter; the onboard computers of two domestic airliners chart a collision course before being overridden at the last second. Then all hell breaks loose. It’s mostly the cars – any automobile with an “intra-vehicle communication chip” either runs humans down on the street or drives the ones on board to their deaths. Imagine the chaos in the cities… Bipedal robots go door-to-door, “removing” human occupants – definitely not safe to stay inside. So what do you do?! After much death and madness, humanity regroups a bit, in the first incidence of true global solidarity, and tries to salvage what’s left of our societies in an attempt to stop whatever the F is happening on the planet.
The story is told through reviewed dispatches and personal accounts compiled by Cormac “Bright Boy” Wallace, a soldier and apparent survivor of the war against the machines. This narrative device is my one true complaint with Robopocalypse – Cormac’s italicized recaps at the end of every chapter/dispatch don’t leave much room for doubt as to how the war will end. (In fact, the opening sentence of the novel begins with “Twenty minutes after the war ends, I…”) Yet despite the perceived inevitability of how things will go for human/robot relations, the journey is so spectacular you end up not caring one whit about the quirks of delivery.
Wilson proves stunningly expert at pacing the story out – leaving just enough fear and doubt in the narrative to keep you quickly turning pages. Thankfully, the dialogue is kept to a relative minimum and remains sharp and believable throughout – speaking parts in books like this can quickly go awry when the robots sound more human than the humans. Not so here. The actions of both machines and humans drive the narrative completely, leaving us constantly wondering what the next ensuing horror will be before humanity can react. Part of this is due to the shocking near-reality of it all – the recognizable element of the horror. Who among us can’t see this “robopocalypse” being part of our own future? We already rely too much on our technological comforts as it is, so who’s to say we won’t be inventing bipedal home aides in the next 50 years? (We could, of course be headed toward Gary Shteyngart’s version of the future too.) We just might be so shortsighted to allow ourselves to get taken in by the ease of tech and end up overrun by our robot slaves. (Kindles are mind-control devices, by the way.)
Anyway, I was skeptical of this, to say the least, when I first saw it. Being a complete book snob, as you know, I thought it odd that my Random House sales rep was pushing this robot book so hard. Then I talked to his wife – a very sensible woman and a great, unbiased reader – who loved it. WTF? And after reading 5 pages I realized how wrong I was in my rash judgment – fine, there I said it. Read this book as soon as you can – it’s well-written, different, escapist, a lot of fun and you’ll forget all about the boring, mundane, tedious shit in your life. And besides, even the jaded reader won’t see exactly how things will shake out in the end – trust me.
And, once again, I implore you – if you read this blog, do me a solid if you are looking to purchase books (including eBooks, mind you) and please check to see if there is at least an independent bookstore near you where you could buy your books, such as Robopocalypse:
Most indies have websites that are just as easy to use as Amazon.com, so try to keep your dollars in your own communities!