Short Review: Robopocalypse, by Daniel Wilson


RobopocalypseRobopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Robopocalypse is a story about a robot uprising on planet Earth, led by a rogue AI named ARCOS, and the humans that defeat it.  Minor spoilers follow. I will try not to be very specific.

I find the experience of reading books like ROBOPOCALYPSE to be frustrating and ultimately a giant letdown. Let us be clear: I wanted the author to score a win with this novel. It’s a great idea, and though it isn’t exactly original, it seems unique in the midst of the wave after wave after wave of badly written zombie apocalypse novels we’ve witnessed in the last five years. The author  attempts to lift from the very best of the zombie apocalypse niche, World War Z, and use the literary trope of telling the story of a global conflict via a series of anecdotes and reminiscences that are linked chronologically. The intention was good but the execution is mediocre– the author starts with random voices in London, Japan and North America, and immediately this narrows down to 3 or 4 consistent narrative voices. That’s before you even get to the larger points of failure, such as dialogue, and characterization, and believability. The dialogue is a real howler. I kept reading these supposed after action reports, memoirs, letters and asking myself– hey, who in the world talks like this? In one section, there’s a chapter that sets up important elements of the end of the novel. It’s told in a series of audio reports from a drilling foreman to his wife back in Texas. The chapter describes a series of gradually worsening events befalling the drilling crew. Every recording is full of facts on engineering, drilling and loaded with “roughneck” slang. Yet, it’s an audio recording from a lonely guy.. to his wife. Really? That’s all he has to say to his wife? Larded with choice bits of dialogue like “whatever is down in that pit.. is EVIL!” (not sure of the quote, but it had me laughing). And another great one.. there’s a character who’s a little anti social. He lives in England. He’s a hacker type. His catch-phrase is “See you in the funny papers”. Wow. What person living in the 21st century uses a phrase with an etymology that dates back to the 1930s? Robopocalypse is full of corny dialogue of this sort– especially of the macho action film Schwarzenegger school of one-liner dialogue, like “Brightboy Squad had filled out it’s dance card and was here to dance” (paraphrasing, here). The author’s insistence on hackneyed macho phrasing, overuse of the word “hero” all over the novel (without communicating the heroics), and general inability to convey anything of interest about his characters other than their roles as conduits for exposition (and being heroes, of course) that led me to rate Robopocalypse poorly. It’s just not written very well. Much as I would like to see a good “Machines against Humanity” story, this isn’t it. I will just have to read Benford’s GALACTIC CENTER series or Saberhagen’s BERSERKERS again to get my fix until the next great Robot Rising novel gets written.

ALL HAIL OUR ROBOT OVERLORDS! (Just in case)

There is cause to be hopeful. Word is out that Steven Spielburg bought the movie rights to Robopocalypse and is working on a film adaption. If he’s sensible, he’ll hire some screenwriting talent (NOT the author) and they’ll be able to extract the good ideas out of this poorly written novel and make a great movie from it. Until then, I’ll see you in the funny papers.

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