Book Review: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Robopocalypse is a near future apocalyptic story written in the form of transcripts and summaries of a variety of key events in a “War with the Robots”.  The concept of an advanced AI choosing to rebel and turning our machines against us is not new (see The Terminator), but the story was exciting and enjoyable to read.

There are a great many similarities in structure and execution to another bestselling apocalyptic SF novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, which I reviewed here.  Both novels take the form of after-the-fact descriptions of events as related (mostly) by survivors.  Both follow a similar story arc, taking us through the initial chaos and panic through the humans regrouping, finding ways to survive, and ultimately triumphing over their adversaries.

Robopocalypse is a darkly depressing novel, portraying our current technological trend toward wholly integrated computing and ubiquitous technology as a massive risk.  Genuinely sentient AI seems possible (if unlikely)even now, and like any sentient being it would be almost impossible to completely predict its actions and choices.

The main character and primary narrator of the book, a Sgt. Cormac Macarthy, relates his own experiences as well as those of a few key other individuals.  His insights into events outside his own experiences are provided by a robot record of the war, which the AI had made a point of preserving.  Most of the stories are compelling, though the story does stretch credibility in some events, as might be expected in an apocalyptic SF novel.

Robopocalypse is currently a strong seller, which is not surprising given the current trend towards apocalypse in fiction and the public zeitgeist.  This book is definitely worth a read, and I encourage anyone with an interest in current SF to try it out.  That said, the novel does not break any new ground, and does not explore new ideas in the manner of the SF greats.

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Asteroid Apocalypse Prevention

Neil Degrasse Tyson at Wired writes about the risk of a major asteroid collision, and what we can do to prevent it.

Currently, it looks doable to develop an early-warning and defense system that could protect the human species from impactors larger than a kilometer wide. Smaller ones, which reflect much less light and are therefore much harder to detect at great distances, carry enough energy to incinerate entire nations, but they don’t put the human species at risk of extinction.

If humans one day become extinct from a catastrophic collision, we would be the laughing stock of aliens in the galaxy, for having a large brain and a space program, yet we met the same fate as that pea-brained, space program-less dinosaurs that came before us.

I am inclined to agree.  We certainly have the capacity to identify potential planet-killers and save ourselves, but we don’t exactly have a good track record of coordinated action. If we are lucky, we will have some kind of functioning asteroid mining industry in place, with indirect technological applications available to ensure that we are able to survive long enough to expand out of this fragile little basket of eggs.

via IO9

 

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RUIN: Short Action Film in an Apocalyptic Ruin

This short film doesn’t spend much time giving us context or story, but it sure is thrilling.  The beginning of the film hints at a back-story, enough to trigger my trope-o-meter and fill in the ‘corporate research run amok’ storyline.  All that is fine, but just enjoy the ride.

It was created by someone named wesball, and the youtube link is here.

via io9.

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Book Review: World War Z

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks, might be seen as one of the next logical steps in the current boom of fiction and film about zombies.  The book is written as a series of interviews with survivors of a global zombie apocalypse , taking us from the initial outbreak through the ‘Great Panic’ and ultimately through the gradual retaking of the world by the living.  The narrator’s voice is minimal, and the book reads as a series of oral histories.

Image from Aevin on flickr, CC licensed.

None of the characters have a major role in the story, and while a few appear repeatedly, many only have a single story to tell.  The author does a masterful job of weaving together all the individual stories into an overarching tale of apocalypse that is both gripping, exciting and utterly horrifying.  There are no Hollywood archetypal zombie killers, but rather a collection of very believable individuals trying to stay alive in the face of horror.

I enjoyed the book immensely, despite my growing weariness with the current zombie madness.  The bleakness of a zombie apocalypse story seems to have strong mass appeal in the current zeitgeist, as many of our closely held assumptions of security and comfort are crumbling.

The best of the book was the gripping, terrifying retelling of individual survival in the Great Panic.  The author did an excellent job of portraying the moments when each person realized the extent of what was happening, and the sheer chaos and horror around them.  He also did an excellent job of actually coming up with a way that people and states might survive such an apocalypse.

The book did have a few characters that were a distorted reflection of contemporary political leaders and celebrities, a touch that was sometimes gratifying and often a little annoying.  One of my least favourite parts included the collapse of a celebrity fortress, a bit that seemed somehow petty and beside the point of the story.  Your mileage may vary of course, as I tend to find anything that involves pointless celebrities annoying.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good, scary thought experiment.  What would you do in the face of a true apocalyptic disaster?  I suspect I would be one of the first to be eaten, but perhaps I would rise to the occasion in the same way as many of the characters in World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.  If you like a good zombie story, and you have not yet succumbed to zombie exhaustion, then this might be the best book you will find for the purpose.

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