Sep 11, 2012

[Books] Robopocalypse

My lifelong obsession with robotics and related "high technology" concepts has led me down some pretty strange paths. Of course we have my overwhelming love of the original Transformers while at the same time an appreciation for other stories that feature robots in a promiment manner. Heck, I wasn't even sure who I was rooting for in the Terminator movies since the robots always seemed so much cooler than the humans.

The concept of a robot uprising, or at least the uprising of an artificial inteligence is but one of the many scenarios that my childhood brain tried to prepare me for as part of my geeky paranoia of the potentially unknown. It's an intriguing concept to have machines somehow rise up against humanity and establish a completely different world order. You'd think that the approach would be rather straightforward but ther varied worlds of science fiction that try tackle the subject all take very different paths.

At first I was disappointed that this novel seemed to feel too much like World War Z given the multiple-POV storytelling approach involved. But in time the story helped establish itself as being very different from that adventure entirely, which was certainly a good thing.

Synopsis: Robopocalypse is a science fiction novel written by Daniel H. Wilson. Wilson holds a PhD in robotics and thus his perspective on things is certainly an interesting and in-depth one.

In a not-too-distant future, the world has been greatly enhanced by the benefits of robotics and other forms of machine automation. From cars that override diver commands in order to prevent accidents to domestic robots that help with chorse, humanity has become a lot more comfortable with the aid of advanced technology. But when a lone scientist's experiments with creating an advanced artificial intelligence results in the entity known as Archos, no one could ever predict how this one program would go on to change the world.

Starting with small probing attacks made to appear as accidents as Archos' precursor virus spread around the world, the book is a history of the eventual robot uprising and later how humanity manages to survive. Archos' goal is a simple one - to curb humanity in order to preserve the greater diversity of life on Earth. And his methods are rather extreme in their implementation as he eventually exerts control over every robotic brain on the planet. But somehow, the human race survives.

Now similar to World War Z, Robopocalypse shares the perspective of this book representing a history of the future. You begin with the knowledge that the human race wins out somehow but the question of how exactly this was achieved or even what the terms of this "success" really are will require you to read the rest of the book in its entirety. And in contrast to World War Z, this book follows particular groups of characters repeatedly so we do get a greater sense of narrative flow and thus emotional investment in the characters as well.

It is intesting to note that we have to acknowledge that this archive of the future's history was actually something recorded by the robots themselves and is now being transcribed by a human being - our narrator. Thus it sort of begs the question as to why the robots chose to do this in the first place and what lessons the archive holds for the human race at large. And this is sort of old hat given how a lot of other science fiction stories have ventured into this notion of the seeming aggressors (in this case Archos and his forces) actually having loftier goals beyond our human conprehension.

I liked how much the book focused on the human struggle throughout this war instead of giving in too much to the temptation of featuring Archos more than everyone else. While it could have helped the narrative more to have a better understand of Archos and his motivations, keeping in the background made him all the more menacing and yet also mysterious enough to someone that we wat to know better. And that's something that is somewhat realized over the course of the book as we reach the final conflict.

The book naturally features a lot of different robots, but not quite the stereotypical single unit composition army that we so often see in other science fiction pieces. Instead following current robotics design, Archos develops a wide variety of different robots patterned after various elements of the natural world. Thus you get four-legged robots meant to address more rugged, rural terrain or very simple single-purpose robots that seem to behave like insects. It grows increasingly disturbing as Archos comes up with more novel and creative way to defend itself against the human armies, all of which just adds to the richness of the whole book.

Robopocalypse is a fascinatiing romp through a theoretical world overrun by sentient machines. The book isn't as simplistic as you'd think it would be and it has more than its share of surprising moments that help set it apart from other works of fiction that have tried to address this subject before. Thus I rate the book a respectful 4 strange human-machine hybrid creations out of a possible 5.

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  1. It looks like an interesting read. Thanks for this.

  2. Why is it hard to comment? Sorry. I didn't know if the first one went through! :/

  3. You're welcome! In case you take the time to read it, let me know what you think!

  4. I think I would be drawn by a robot apocalypse story and this is also an excellent material for a movie.

  5. Go enjoy! Supposedly Steven Spielberg has committed to producing the movie for a 2014 release. Names floating around are Chris Hemsworth, Ben Whishaw and Anne Hathaway, but we'll see.

  6. I love Transformers the same as you do and this is a bit intriguing. I'd like to get an e-book copy. :) I wonder if Socorro "Duds" Pinca knows about this novel already. LOL! But I'm yet to tell her later.

  7. I'm not into sci-fi, but this sounds pretty intriguing. I'll look for a copy in my Kindle Library. :) And with talks of Spielberg doing the movie, it's something to look forward to. Should be in IMAX-3D! @_@

  8. I know Duds! We are fellow Trekkies / geeks. =D

    I actually invested in the official Kindle copy of this book. Totally worth it.

  9. Hope you get a copy for yourself! I can imagine it'll make a pretty impressive movie.