Review: Robopocalypse

Recommendation: Thumbs up. "Robopocalypse" is good light reading, yet this sci fi book may be worth some serious thought as well.

"Robopocalypse" tells a story found within a hard steel box. Archos, a conscious artificial intelligence, takes control of humanity's domestic and industrial robots, smart cars, and appliances and then turns these tools to human destruction. At the end of the war between humans and robots, Cormac Wallace, a human on the winning side, finds a cube containing the history of the robot rebellion and subsequent war. Archos itself compiled the history from electronic media. Wallace calls the device "the black

box of the whole war." He constructs an account for human reading from the records in the box and fleshes out the story by adding human accounts, especially at the end of the story when the war starts to go badly for Archos.

The hard steel box contains hard science fiction. Wilson has a Ph.D. in robotics and speculates on the possible and the probable future of automation and technology in the novel. Indeed, many of the robots in the story are here now, albeit in simpler forms than the intelligence-driven devices of the novel. Hard SF means no light sabers, no faster-than-light spaceships, no time travel, no telepathy, no sound in space, etc. Given the pervasive influence of fantasy in science fiction, a hard SF novel refreshes us.

The novel mixes electronic records from video cameras and telecommunications devices, reminding us of the John Dos Passos's "U.S.A." trilogy. Dos Passos constructed that trilogy loosely. "Robopocalypse," on the other hand, has a tight five-act structure like a Shakespearean tragedy. In fact, the novel is the tragedy of Archos and tells us of the rise and fall of a great AI.

The end of "Robopocalypse" is stronger than the beginning. The book introduces the characters to us with some stories reminiscent of 1960s television episodes. Examining

these early stories raises a question: how do we tell the story of a machine--or even a human--becoming conscious? Having a machine achieve consciousness is the softest part of the SF in the novel, for we don't understand consciousness. How better to create fiction about achieving consciousness than to go the route of "Frankenstein" and 1960s television?

Robopocalypse means robot apocalypse. The novel describes a war in which robots destroy human civilization, hence the title. In Greek apocalypse also means revelation. The black box contains the records that Archos kept after human civilization collapsed, records that are a revelation to humanity. The name Archos itself means ruler in Greek, and it shares a common root with the word for beginning. The wordplay in the novel isn't limited to Greek. One robot is named Mikiko, in Japanese "child of the tree trunk." Her owner is Takeo, which means warrior, brave or simply man, depending on the characters used to write the name. This wordplay reveals a hidden layer of complexity. The novel may be worth reading a second time to puzzle out a possible allegory.

DreamWorks and Steven Spielberg are set to make a movie of "Robopocalypse." In the acknowledgements at the end of the novel, the author thanks "the filmmakers at DreamWorks" for encouraging him. Most writers on the web who blog about "Robopocalypse" are blogging about Spielberg's "Robopocalypse." DreamWorks, we learn, has postponed the release of the movie until 2014. Let's ignore the Hollywood PR and read the best-selling book. We may be rewarded with a sequel or a trilogy. 

Article Written By marqjonz

marqjonz is a blogger at

Last updated on 20-05-2016 178 0

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