August 8, 2011

Robopocalypse, a short review


I don't generally keep up with the genre of "robot horror fiction", but a close friend recently gave me a copy of Daniel Wilson's Robopocalypse: A Novel, and I rather enjoyed it.


The novel is set in the near future, during a time when robots are incorporated into all aspects of human life: as domestic assistants, as security police, as soldiers, as medical practitioners, and so forth. These powerful and sophisticated machines reach the point at which they become advanced enough to think on their own, at which point, Wilson wonders: will they love us, or hate us?

In this telling, Wilson is following a distinguished line of authors, from HP Lovecraft, to Alan Turing, to Vernor Vinge, who have been considering this question for nearly a hundred years. To his story, Wilson brings a fast-paced technique that makes the book a roller-coaster ride, with lots of action:

Now the tickler emerges from the hole, looking like a spider with a fly. Its long, wiry arms grip a black cube the size of a basketball. The cube must be as dense as lead, but the tickler is crazy strong. We normally use 'em for grabbing up a guy who falls off a cliff or into a hole, but they can handle anything from a ten-pound vanilla babe to a soldier in full exo-rig.

If you recognize the imagery of movies such as Terminator, The Matrix, or Transformers here, you're not pointed in the wrong direction, for Wilson's book is really more screen-play than prose, and he seems to wish he could skip the novel and go directly to the movie:

And there it is in the tent, like a horror movie so twisted that it drives people insane. I lie awake because I know that every one of the soulless monsters I found is in there waiting for me, alive and well and rendered in vivid 3-D. The monsters want to talk, to share what happened. They want me to remember and write it all down.

But though Wilson's future is bleak, it is not hopeless, and he is at least as influenced by Richard Brautigan's famous poem, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. If the machines can think, Wilson suggests, then perhaps some of them, at least, will prove capable of thinking clearly, perhaps even prove capable of love.

If you're looking for a quick, fun summer-time read, head off to your favorite bookstore and give Daniel Wilson's Robopocalypse a try.