It’s rare for me to pick up something new on a whim. In the past few weeks, I discovered not only a desire to read a modern science fiction (something there isn’t enough of), but a curiosity in character and varied prose. Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson appeared to be the perfect fit for those cravings.
Unlike other science fiction stories, especially those rooted in fact, Wilson knows his stuff. Because his full name and title is Dr. Daniel H. Wilson, Ph.D. His doctorate field? Robotics. He has two Master of Science degrees as well, in Robotics and Machine Learning. It’s clear that WIlson knows what he’s talking about. (Should I write about ecology, I won’t have nearly the credentials since my studies officially cut out at the Master’s level.)
Robopocalypse focuses on a single soldier who has survived the New War against the robots to find and transcribe a variety of records from the “hero cube,” a device the robots have used to record the history of the computer Archos and how it started and fought the war. Each chapter is another record Cormac, the soldier, is transcribing to the best of his ability, outlining how things developed over time. What that means for us, the reader, is that we are presented not with a cohesive tale, but a detailed history of events that directly influence the start and outcome of the war.
The most noticeable thing this does is present only those elements that influence the war itself. If, say, a romantic subplot emerges, it exists only as a subtext. The upside to this is never having to wait for the plot to pick up, since it never actually goes away or even fades to the background. From one moment to the next, the question is “how will things escalate from here?”
The development of robots in a modern setting is the only real speculation in Robopocalypse. The initial chapters deal with slight changes in existing robots, which are essentially robots designed to fix modern problems. Wilson makes the possible applications of robotics interesting and intriguing, and he does it in such a way where the robots are sympathetic, almost to the point of being victims of Archos plotting against humanity.
I don’t want to go into many plot details, since there’s little aside from plot to be had in this story. Let it simply be said that Robopocalypse is a unique sort of book that will leave you wondering more and more about the nature of robotics and how robots could actually interact with the real world–for better or worse. Somehow, I think that might have been Wilson’s plan all along.