In the tradition of World War Z, Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypseis essentially the oral history of the robot uprising and the human resistance. This is not a particularly original idea in science fiction. Indeed, machines overthrowing their human masters is probably one of the most common tropes there is. Wilson has a Ph.D. in Robotics which helps ground the proceedings in at least the trappings of science, and the narrative vehicle of the narrator transcribing recordings of the war provides a certain freshness. Although, the concept of a human survivor transcribing the robots’ own recordings of the war is an idea that I felt deserved more than simply being a framing device.
The novel follows about six main characters whose lives become integral to the war effort. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the frame, none of these characters have any real depth to them. They all felt as though they were carrying out plot-driven actions, or acting out interesting ideas. For all that the novel and its concept provide scope for a vast overarching view of the war, the so-called robopocalypse lacked immediacy. This is less a novel than a series of vignettes.
Robopocalypse is a fast moving, action packed blockbuster of a novel. But outside of the action pieces and the robotics, it’s ultimately empty. The Sentient AI breaks free and decides to destroy humanity in a handful of pages, largely because that’s the sort of things Sentient AIs do in books about the Robot Apocalypse. The humans fight back because otherwise there would be no story. Sadly disappointing.