Sunday, August 4, 2013

ROBOPOCALYPSE – Daniel Wilson

In 1978 I bought a copy of Night Shift by Stephen King and very much enjoyed many of the short stories and one in particular called, Trucks. Trucks was a horror/science fiction thriller about semi trucks and other large machines suddenly becoming sentient and attacking humans keeping a small band of them hostage in a truck stop. King also directed a movie made from that story called Maximum Overdrive. I was reminded of that story when I began Robopocalypse by Wilson. Both are based on the theme of machines attempting to overrun the world. However, while Trucks just made the machines able to think, Robopocalypse made all machines containing computer chips governed by a massive computer brain hidden in the arctic, called Archos.

In the beginning, in a not-so-distant future, humans are living with many robots around them. Not just those in factories but some android types are in offices and in homes working, cooking, cleaning, running errands, and performing other duties. Nicholas Wasserman is a scientist working on artificial intelligence. It is when he is awakening this robot called Archos for the 14th time that he makes a grave error in his calculations and the computer escapes the lab and starts remotely reprogramming computerized devices. Archos sets in motion a war between computerized machines and man. Androids begin to murder their families or employers, automobiles begin crashing to kill the humans inside them or by running over them, toys animate in their toy boxes and terrify children, artificial limbs turn on the people in which they are implanted, and computers regulating buildings begin corralling, killing, and maiming inhabitants. What an apocalypse indeed!

The construction of the novel is interestingly set up as a series of short stories or vignettes in first person taking place at Zero hour or during the ensuing war. There are really good characters such as the lonely Japanese technician who is in love with his home android, the 20-something computer hacker bent on finding whomever is taking credit for his pranks, a congresswoman trying to save her children, and a photojournalist escaping Boston and leading a band of survivors to the west. In my opinion Wilson did a nice job of connecting all the moving parts (so to speak).

Yes, there are hokey parts and silly love interests but overall I still really liked it. It was a page-turner for me and the jerky motion of some parts to me seemed to make the story feel real. Some scenes made my hair stand on end like when the congresswoman is fleeing in a vintage car (pre-computer chip) while she and her children have no choice but to witness mayhem on the road as other vehicles kill people; or when a servant robot breaks into a fast food store to kill people.

The idea of an Indian reservation, where the influence of computers is limited or nil, being the bastion of survival was intriguing. It would be hard not to notice that this book is similar in its construction to World War Z by Brooks but still I don't think that detracts from the piece. One will like the same things in both books construction. A good book and a good one for book groups to read together.


If you notice some of your appliances malfunctioning....beware.

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