Here we are, at the review that almost didn’t get written. Sitting down on two separate computers I was plagued with technical problems while writing this. It’s almost as if. . . nah, couldn’t be that.
Tension is high on the first page of Robopocalypse, where we are thrust into Sergeant Wallace’s life. On that page, his life consists of trying to distract a small hoard of walnut sized robots that seek out humans through their body warmth, and then detonate on their legs, thus crippling them. It also seems that Sergeant Wallace’s method of distraction, his flame thrower, isn’t working. All this, after we’ve already won the war. Welcome to Robopocalypse – the newest book by Daniel H. Wilson.
Robot’s becoming intelligent and rising up against their one time masters is not a new theme in Science Fiction, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when this book landed on my desk. Wilson has several things going for him right from the start though, which I was hoping would make this book a fresh take on an old subject. With a PhD in Robotics, it’s a pretty safe bet that he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to robots and is in a good position to extrapolate out a bit in regards their development. He also literally wrote the book on How to Survive a Robot Uprising.
If you’ve read World War Z then you’ll be struck by the similar structure of the two novels. They both trace first and second hand accounts of a war with something that is not human. We see history unfolding through the eyes of those who are making it, where as this book heads of in a different direction is with the continuity of characters. We follow several groups of interrelated characters as they cross paths in the short but incredibly violent war to save humanity. Our story is overseen by Sergeant Wallace, who’s come into a bit of enemy intelligence (did you see what I did there?) which allows him to see the war as recorded from the robot’s perspective.
The book is well and tightly plotted, moving forward in bursts through short chapters which kept me very thoroughly engaged. I did lose sleep over this one, reading well past my general bed time and telling myself “just one more chapter, they’re so short! Just one more. . . .”
There are few points in the plot that seem a bit forced or contrived. I don’t want to spoil any surprises so I won’t go in to great detail. The author makes use of the, here appropriately named, Deus ex machina in a way that’s not entirely improbable but stretches believability just a bit. It doesn’t ruin the book by any stretch – Wilson still manages to take a somewhat formulaic novel structure and breathe fresh life in to it. The characters are engaging, the premise wavers between horrific and fantastic and the imagery created by Wilson will stick with you for a while.
I’m predicting that this book will do quite well when it’s released in early June. Steven Spielberg optioning it as a film before it was even finished isn’t going to hurt any, and it’s a tight, fun, and action packed book. Perfect summer reading with spiritual predecessors in Brooks and Crichton.