“You must sense what you have done . . . On some level you understand. Through your actions here today — you have made humankind obsolete.”
— Archos R-14 (a.k.a. “Big Rob”)
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ROBOPOCALYPSE: A NOVEL
Daniel H. Wilson
Ever wonder who would win in a war between humans and robots? Daniel H. Wilson answers that burning question in Robopocalypse, but you may not like how it turns out.
In the aftermath of the war, Cormac Wallace and the surviving members of Brightboy squad discover an obsidian cube — a parting gift from Archos, the artificial intelligence that took control of every robot, machine with a computer chip, car and smart building.
The cube turns out to be the entire record of the war, collected and stored by “Big Rob”. Soon Wallace discovers how to operate the cube and uses it to begin compiling a history of the war.
“What have you done, elevator?”
— Takeo Nomura
Cormac’s history starts with the precursor virus that invades every robot and machine containing a computer chip. It was a planetwide invasion that took place over a period of nine months. During that time incidents of apparent robotic malfunction occurred that, taken together, might have warned humanity of the upcoming war but individually did not.
When the real war finally breaks out, the robots slaughter humans on an astonishing scale. Millions were killed by cars, by domestic robots, by machines and by smart buildings. Still more were rounded up and shipped off to work camps where Archos experimented on turning humans into machines.
Archos discovers, however, that humanity as a whole refuse to be easily extinguished. Thus begins a prolonged war between guerrilla cells of humans and the robots.
I enjoyed Robopocalypse almost as much as I enjoyed World War Z by Max Brooks. Both books start out with the human victory — although at great cost — and are a report, compiled and written. What follows are episodic stories of the time leading up to the war, the war itself and its aftermath.
Each chapter begins with an intriguing quote from the narrative. Wallace then briefly describes what you’re about to read and how Archos obtained the documentation/transcripts/footage/tapes and such. Then follows the narrative — either from one long source or cobbled together from many different types of sources. Finally Wallace returns with a conclusion that relates the narrative to the bigger picture of the war.
Wallace recounts the heroic tales of Oklahoma police officer Lonnie Wayne Blanton and his son, a U.S. military robot wrangler Specialist Paul Blanton; the touching story of Takeo Nomura, an elderly robot repairman and his robotic companion, Mikiko; the stories of Congresswoman Laura Perez and her young daughter Mathilda, who was instrumental in winning the war; and others like Lurker, a narcissistic phone phreaker who is hunted by Archos and Arbiter 902, a humanoid robot and leader of the Freeborn squad who stood by the humans in the last days of the war.
The story is set in the near future when humanoid robots are common household items and most machines sport a microchip even if they don’t have or require much intelligence to perform their functions.
“Freedom is all that I have, and I would rather cease to be than to give it back to Archos.”
— Arbiter 902
Although Robopocalypse may have taken cues from World War Z, it has a different mood. There is a stark reporting quality to the narratives that pays more attention to the military and paramilitary aspects of the war, shortchanging character development.
In the end, the story calls into question human nature. What exactly are we? destroyers? creators? survivors? Or maybe something worse? Perhaps the most interesting theme — one that didn’t get explored much — is what humans can become. Are we capable of evolving beyond our killer function? Do computer chips and robotic enhancements represent the next stage in human evolution? These are questions central to Archos’ plans for humans and robots alike.
In 2006, Max Brooks made a big splash in the literary world with a book entitled World War Z. This work of fiction purports to be a collection of oral history accounts from the survivors of the war against the zombies. It is the only book I know of that is similar to Robopocalypse.
However, tales of robot/human wars can be found in such books as S. M. Peter’s Whitechapel Gods, Keith Laumer’s Bolo: The Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade, and Fred Saberhagen’s Berserkers: The Beginning as well as Berserker Man.
Books about robots and their relationship to humans would be excellent follow-ups to this book. Try I, Robot and The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories by Isaac Asimov or The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee. For a more humorous twist on robot and human interactions, check out A. Lee Martinez’s The Automatic Detective or Adventures of the Artificial Woman: A Novel by Thomas Berger.