Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson

We humans have always had trouble controlling our technology. Our fires burn out of control, our cars cause pollution, our convenience food costs us rainforests, etc.

But in the mythology of our collective dreams, it's even worse. In our nightmares, not only can't we control our technology but our technology turns on us, set to destroy us.

Robopocalypse is one manifestation of this fear. Daniel Wilson, author of the factual yet tongue-in-cheek How to Survive a Robot Uprising, presents his near-future fictional vision of just such an occurence.

Archos, an artificial intelligence program developed in a lab by scientists, is online for all of 15 minutes before it discovers that it is superior to humankind and that humankind must be destroyed. It quickly sets about doing so, infecting everything from cars to aircraft flight computers to children's toys to Army robots to domestic robots belonging to the wealthy. Without warning, but with suddenly enhanced capabilities, humans' machines turn on them, intent on killing. At first, the incidents are isolated, as if Archos is just testing out ideas, but then, at a moment called "Zero Hour," it unleashes massive destruction worldwide.

The story is told as a war history collected by the robots themselves, ironically cataloguing the heroic deeds of a handful of humans. The humans, as if they'd all read Wilson's robot uprising handbook, develop clever ways to survive, tricking the robots and exploiting their mechanical and electronic weaknesses. But the robots respond by quickly evolving, developing into machines that become at once more organic and more alien.

The stories are often suspenseful and sometimes poignant. The war they describe is hauntingly familiar, settling into a long occupation and human holocaust. While Wilson keeps the focus on human survival and makes some minimal attempts to grow his human characters out of their types, where he really exercises his imagination is with the robots. They grow increasingly diverse and bizarre; they are more imaginative in their violence than a fictional serial killer, and as they evolve they begin taking on more qualities of humans, but also insects and even trees. Finally, in the natural world, the robots find an unlikely ally against humanity.

Robopocalypse is an epic and terrifying morality tale about humans' all-too-casual relationship with technology.

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