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“Robopocalypse” Is A Novelty Novel

September 3, 2012 by Kiersi

Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson

This book gets: ♥♥♥ out of 5

Before I get into this I want to explain my rating system. Five is perfect; exceptional. Four is good, recommendable. Three is mediocre (which has, strangely, developed a negative connotation, when it actually means “middle of the road” in terms of quality). Two is severely flawed, but I finished it. I only give ones to books that I either didn’t finish or wanted to stop reading before finishing but had some compelling reason not to toss in the towel.

The thing that really frustrated me about Robopocalypse was that it started with the ending. I knew right from the beginning how this whole robot war was going to go down. It’s got this too-clever-for-its-own-good storytelling plot device, where the near-total destruction of humanity at the hands of an escaped AI is retold by the de facto soldier who helped defeat him. So, essentially, it’s a meta-meta-novel, adding to the Cloverfield premise that our soldier-narrator, Cormac Wallace, is recording a black box of historical data about the war left behind by the defeated AI.

And I think I would have been fine with that, had it not been for Wilson’s choice in having Cormac preface each “chapter,” or transcription/description/direct recollection of events based on video/sound byte/surveillance footage, with a short summary of the chapter (before you’d even read it), usually revealing the ending in the method of transcription (again, before you’ve even read it). It was just too cold and distant a way of telling a story. Interestingly, it took me forever to finish it. I never felt compelled to continue on to the next chapter, to find out what happened next, because each “mini-narrative” was relatively whole. Often I think the speed at which I devour a book has a lot to do with its sheer enjoyment factor.

On the flip side, though, and the reason I did finish reading it, were three things: 1) A brilliant premise, 2) Some novel ideas, 3) Excellent writing. Wilson is a talented storyteller, even if the manner in which he chose to weave his larger story (the kind of “hip and edgy” that crosses over into simply unpalatable) really turned me off.

I like the reasons for which Archos, our genocidal AI, chooses to turn on us; the robot apocalypse has been done before, but not like this. It leads to interesting developments in the tired, post-catastrophe “small band of humans fighting for survival” trope. Though Wilson does tend to beat you over the head with his themes, they aren’t bad themes, or uninteresting themes. The opposite, even.

I’ll drop a little secret for you: a few sections of this are narrated by a robot. And I love that. That was, really, the thing that made me finish this book. He is perfectly inhuman while being perfectly believable. I wish the whole book had been told by him.


4 Comments »

  1. It’s start with the ending? I guess if there are things to go back and figure out that could work well. It’s different. I agree that a book told from the POV of a robot would be awesome!

  2. I rate books the same way – a 3 is actually a good rating, 4 exceptional and 5 I reserve for the absolute best. Anyway, I don’t tend to like books that work backward in the same way I’m not a fan of TV episodes that begin with the ending or a climactic event and then the story is unfolded.

    Having said that, this still sounds like a supercool book that I’d check out.

    • Kiersi says:

      Yes! I’m glad I’m not the only one. It seems like other reviewers out there are far more generous than I am.

      Despite the peculiarity of the storytelling, I’d still recommend the book to anyone that likes robots, sci-fi or Isaac Asimov.

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