Even though they aren't common, fictional oral histories are nothing new in literature, but since the publication of Max Brooks's WORLD WAR Z (a fictional oral history about the World War against zombies) the genre has become more prevalent. It's only a matter of time before there will be several fictional oral histories about the vampire dominion of the Earth, the near eradication of all the world's werewolves, and the downfall of the Illuminati of witches and warlocks that have secretly been trying to rule the world since the Middle Ages. Until then, readers who enjoy the genre can content themselves with ROBOPOCALYPSE, Daniel Wilson's oral history about the uprising of the world's robots and the near destruction of humankind.
Set in the near future (an actual year is never given as time of the creation of the "Precursor Virus" that affects machines and "Zero Hour" the time when the machines rise up against humanity), ROBOCALYPSE begins when a scientist in a remote and secret laboratory in Washington state unwittingly unleashes an artificial intelligence named Archos into the world. Archos believes that humans have existed only to make better and better machines and tools and now that they have created him, the ultimate machine and tool, humanity is no longer needed and he will eradicate them from Earth so that nature and machines can live together in harmony. Thus begins a year-long time where Archos begins planning for his planned eradication of humanity. Around the world there are scattered instances of robots gone insane from the soldier-bot in the Middle East that begins attacking terrorists and soldiers alike to a serving droid in Oklahoma that kills the cook of the restaurant it works in to a robotic doll that nearly kills the daughter of a U.S. Congresswoman to Archos himself when he speaks to a hacker in London to prevent him from revealing his secret operation.
A year after the Precursor Virus that affects Archos is released, he initiates Zero Hour. Machines begin killing people. Cars automatically crash themselves to kill their passengers, elevators smash themselves into the ground, and droids begin attacking their owners. It's dark times for humanity. Yet, hope remains and an aged Japanese inventor makes discovers the secret to what is making the machines attack. Humanity is soon joined in their fight for survival by seemingly unlikely allies.
ROBOPOCALYPSE is kind of a mash-up of WORLD WAR Z and the TERMINATOR movies. The novel is similar to WORLD WAR Z because the story is told through the form of an oral history. Unlike WORLD WAR Z which features many different characters, ROBOCALYPSE tells its story through a few key characters so when you are introduced to a character you hear more of their story later on in the novel. Like the TERMINATOR movies ROBOCALYPSE features a super-powerful A.I. that initiates a world-wide war aimed at the eradication of humanity. However, like in TERMINATOR, Archos's plans are thwarted by free robots.
ROBOCALYPSE is a great mind-candy novel. It doesn't pretend to be great literature, but it does tell a great story and features some memorable characters. The sci-fi aspects of the story are more detailed and realistic than other robot-novels I've read because the author actually is a robotic engineer. Fans of techno-thrillers and sci-fi will probably enjoy the book most, but it has a lot of appeal for general readers (Steven Spielberg will be directing the movie adaptation of the book set to be released in 2013).
This was an entertaining read. It had some interesting perspectives, particularly on the evolution of the bots, the collaboration between them, and the emergence of renegade bots. The complete coldness of Archos was well-drawn, and suitably chilling. The book lacks the passion of the Terminator movies, but that's not comparing apples with apples -- and it'll be interesting indeed to see what Spielberg does with it.