Prepare to be assimilated by ’Robopocalypse’
“Robopocalypse (Doubleday), by Daniel H. Wilson
Friday, June 10, 2011
You’re not sure you need another artificial intelligence/robot uprising story in your life. There have been so many. But the curiously emotionless molded face staring back from the book cover of “Robopocalypse” is enchanting. Sterile, but menacing. Placid, but full of the potential for violence. Those red eyes both playful and devious.
So you crack open Daniel H. Wilson’s buzz-worthy book to dip your toe in and read a few paragraphs, just to see ... and you’re swept away against your will. To a near future full of death and destruction. To a place of familiar but interesting ideas. To a scenario that seems ever more plausible as technology proliferates at the relentless speed of invention.
There’s also a sense of been there, done that and a few eye-rolling moments that barge across the border into cliche. But for the most part, Wilson, who earned a doctorate in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and plumbed these depths once before with the nonfiction novelty book “How to Survive a Robot Uprising,” has created a riveting page turner that has some fine moments — and ought to make one heck of a movie by Steven Spielberg.
“Robopocalypse” is the story of an artificial intelligence named Archos who uses a virus to turn Earth’s large service robot population into an army set on the destruction of mankind. Billions of unprepared humans are killed in the first weeks of the war, and it takes the remaining pockets of humanity years to mount an effective resistance against the ever-evolving and improving robot army.
The story is told by Cormac “Bright Boy” Wallace, who helps lead the final charge against Archos. At the war’s conclusion he finds a black box that contains the stories of the key players — both human and newly sentient humanoid robot alike — and moments in the fight against Archos.
Wilson keeps the story simple and fast-paced as it jumps forward in time to the conclusion of the war and 347 pages melt away in almost no time.
We meet key players like Takeo Nomura, who helps humanoid robots break free of Archos after his robot companion attacks him; Lonnie Wayne Blanton, a leader of the Osage Nation’s Gray Horse Army, and his son Paul, who witnesses one of the first robot attacks while stationed in Afghanistan; an initially resistant senator whose daughter is experimented on by the robots; and dozens of others who in some way help defeat Archos.
“Robopocalypse” was optioned by DreamWorks before it was even finished and was later bought by Doubleday. It is clearly a book written with the big screen in mind, and its fast-paced, kinetic scenes, relentless violence and lean story line (including a cringe-inducing tacked-on moment at the end that will allow director Spielberg to launch a franchise if the film turns out to be the blockbuster it sure feels like) will translate well.
It’s more than just a screenplay, though, and worth the time to read. There are a few beautiful moments of writing throughout “Robopocalypse” that make it a worthy addition to the canon of robot apocalypse books, movies and comics that have come before.
Near the end of the book, a newly awakened squad of sentient robots sprint across the frozen tundra of Alaska toward Archos, the last chance for the survival of both humanity and this new race of intelligent beings. The squad’s leader, Nine Oh Two, describes its run across broken ground as Archos fights back. But the passage also works on a deeper level as a former slave to programming and to its human designers experiences the freedom that comes with higher intelligence and understanding.
“While my body is in the air, I hear the wind whistling across my chest hull and feel the cold pulling away my exhaust heat. It is a soothing sound, soon shattered by the pounding of my feet as I land at a full run.”
It doesn’t get any more self-aware than that.