07 February 2012

Books: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson (2011)

In Robopocalypse (one of the last remaining ARC’s I got before Borders closed) author Daniel H. Wilson borrows heavily from other concepts, in particular The Terminator’s Skynet analogy and tries to breathe some life into the not so new idea that computers will one day take us humans over. As a screenplay –Steven Spielberg will helm a theatrical version due in 2013- the story could work. I’ve read many novels the seem to written as a screenplay (a lot of the early John Grisham novels and while I’ve never read one, I’m understanding the James Patterson “written” novels do the same), but as a novel, it falters in one of the biggest blunders, no characterization.

I can forgive Wilson from cribbing Westworld, The Terminator, Asimov’s I, Robot and countless other novels and short stories and TV shows like The Simpsons (Homer attacked by an ice cube maker anyone?) that have computers becoming sentient (even Futurama gave cars personalities), but in the end, I still want to feel for the characters, their motivations and how human they can be when confronted by a superior force. True, I sense that we humans will become barbaric if tomorrow we lost all the things that we communicate with, but we already know this. While writing emotions can be hard to portray in TV and movies –it can slow a story down, some will say- in a novel form, this still works. And a creative author can build emotion and action and create a wonderful book.

Anyways, the gist of this novel is that an AI gains sentience and manages to lead our technology — cars, phones, computers, and more — to revolt. While Wilson does not dwell on how’s and why’s –how this AI could bypass all the protocols these devices have and make them work together is never explored (and whether that’s good or bad depends on how you approach the novel. Again, it reads more like a screenplay, where those complex ideas are generally skipped over to maintain the action) –there is some shred of believability here, as companies like Apple are working on Operating Systems that will synchronize devices and shared information.

As the novel progresses, the humans begin a revolt of their own, and a war begins. But the AI is also portrayed as low-end of the gene pool brother of Skynet and HAL. It makes some very obvious mistakes, and dooms itself because of it.

While not trying to discount the possibility of Wilson’s theory, because I’m not that smart, the book fails to make you care for anyone. It’s full of clichés, has no depth and makes you yearn for the days of Michael Crighton, who while never the best at creating characters, still brought some life to ones he did bring to the page. My biggest issue comes with the multiple-narrator structure, which seems pretentious at best, but more distracting than anything, really (while this style is becoming more routine these days in a lot of popular novels, it can only work when the reader can get some connection from the characters, otherwise it becomes an excuse for the author not explore them any deeper than a puddle). Because of this structure, the book can never gel, as it moves in leaps to get to the next action sequence.

In the end, this is a screenplay written as a novel, and Wilson is not the next Crighton or Phillip K. Dick –I don’t think Wilson possesses that profound imagination that Dick was capable of. It’s a tedious read, but if you’re looking for something that does not task the brain, the book and next year’s movie version, makes this the for you.

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