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Daniel H. Wilson
Doubleday, 368 pages

Daniel H. Wilson
Daniel H. Wilson earned a Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University. He is the author of How to Survive a Robot Uprising, Where's My Jetpack?, How to Build a Robot Army, The Mad Scientist Hall of Fame, and Bro-Jitsu: The Martial Art of Sibling Smackdown.

Daniel H. Wilson Website
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A review by David Maddox

Imagine a future not so far away and not so fantastic, where humans are so dependant on robots that we hardly give them a second thought. They're in our homes, cars, phones, and work places. They clean out house, cook out food and take care of the dangerous and tedious work we don't want to do. And what would happen if they all turned against us?

Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse gives us that future and the answer to that question. It begins after the years-long battle has ended. A rag-tag team of soldiers, war weary and tired, comes across a black box recorder of the entire war from its early stages to the final hours. Cormac Wallace, one of the heroes of the story, sits down to record the events so future generations will understand what happened.

The story is then told in small vignettes chronicling the birth of free-thinking robot mind Archos, who decides humanity is too destructive to life and begins the robot rebellion, through the small instances of robot attacks, right up to Zero Hour when, at one synchronized moment, all machines turn on all of humanity. Then we're introduced to numerous characters who make their mark in the human resistance from Native American father-son duo Lonnie Wayne Blanton and Paul Blanton, to the Perez family and even an English blogger who is only known by the internet handle Lurker.

Through the short tales the reader is given moments of mass execution through death camps, human modification by machines and characters that fight back like Takeo Nomura, who genuinely loves his robot girlfriend and is responsible for starting a freeborn robot rebellion that denies Archos' ideals, most notably the self-aware robot Nine Oh Two.

All this seems like it should not only be a rousing adventure but a chilling post-apocalyptic drama. But it never actually comes together and reaches that point. One of the big selling points of this book is that, even before it was finished, director Steven Spielberg tapped it as his next project. And the book reads like the treatment of a blockbuster feature film. The characters are bland, as if the writer was unsure who'd be playing them in the movie, there's weapons and vehicles that would make excellent toys and actions figures for the tie-in and the ending is left wide open for sequel possibilities.

Now Spielberg will probably make a thrilling film from this work, but it feels that Wilson didn't put the time into creating the world that Spielberg would be allowed to adapt. The story borrows from many previous tales like Isaac Asimov's I, Robot, James Cameron's Terminator and even elements of the Wachowski Brothers's Matrix. Obvious comparisons can be made to Max Brooks' World War Z and Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead (substituting the robots for the zombies, of course) but the heart of these stories is missing from Robopocalypse. Now not everyone can write the detail of Stephen King's The Stand into the post-apocalyptic genre, but there's too many gaps between the tales in Wilson's work, so much so that you never fully connect with any of the characters. And with the destructions and violence he's creating, there should be horrific and haunting moments that stick with the reader for years to come. But he holds back, barely hinting some of the terror. The most human character is the robot Nine Oh Two but he arrives very late in the story and appears for a very limited amount of time.

The biggest thing Robopocalypse has going for it is that it's not too far from the truth. The reader really can see this world coming to existence in a few short years. But while the stage is well set, there is so much more that can be told and it's just not there. The book is selling quite well and there's already lots of buzz over pre-production for the 2013 film release, so it's considered a hit. Let's hope the film adds the scale and personal connection that the story lacks.

Copyright © 2011 David Maddox

David Maddox
Science fiction enthusiast David Maddox has been Star Trek characters, the Riddler in a Batman stunt show and holds a degree in Cinema from San Francisco State University. He has written several articles for various SF sites as well as the Star Wars Insider and the Star Trek Communicator. He spends his time working on screenplays and stories while acting on stage, screen and television. He can sometimes be seen giving tours at Universal Studios Hollywood and playing Norman Bates.

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