I texted my brother (who is currently in Korea) at six in the morning to tell him that if robots attack, to come home. That is what Robopocalypse_a_novel by Daniel H. Wilson did to me.
As I mentioned in a few previous posts, this is the only book that I have ever picked up solely for the writing.
I came across Wilson’s work in a most provocative and heart-wrenching short story in the hard science fiction anthology Carbide Tipped Pens. His prose was so smooth and simple, it drew me completely into the story and I knew I had to pick up his other works.
Now, another disclaimer. Though I am a science fiction fan, I have come to the genre late and admittedly do not enjoy a lot of the typical ‘classic’ sci-fi — which is why I have not read a lot of it. A lot of the critiques on Goodreads said that the plot was recycled and it was predictable. My rebuttal: so was Romeo and Juliet.
The story starts off with a narrator in the ‘present’ telling us that the New War has ended. Then he finds a box that speaks robot that has recorded events from pre-war to the New War of people who would play pivotal roles in the war. The narrator, Cormac Wallace, then proceeds to give a narration and written recording of the events that he sees as the black box of the war recounts the stories.
For all you writers out there, the story was told in first person and third person present tense which really put the reader in the thick of things. The switching between first and third tense didn’t bother me as it was prefaced with an opening statement which sort of introduced what was important about that chapter. I’ve begged Cheri to do a ‘Write Like’ on Daniel H. Wilson, so we’ll see if she complies. His writing draws the reader along with simple words and vivid imagery. I need to learn what he does so that I can be amazing like him.
Things I don’t like: changing perspectives, random time gaps, loose ends, and robot vs. robot.
Things I like: intricate weaving of storyline, the writing, diversity, and believability.
In the beginning the random jumps between perspectives were exciting and helped pull the story along. I didn’t know what was happening, so any information was good information. As the story progressed and I started to get to know characters, I wanted to know more of what each character was doing. Having more than twelve narrators doesn’t lend itself too much time for each.
Which brings me to the random time gaps. Every chapter begins with a quote from the character and a timestamp, which lets the reader know exactly where in the story timeline the chapter takes place. Understandably, when events go down, there are multiple chapters with the same timestamp. But then there were gaps of years or months that probably nothing of interest happened, but I was curious to see how the characters grew in that time.
For example: there was a girl named Mathilda. We learn early on that she becomes a pivotal in the victory of the New War. After we’re introduced to why, we never hear from her again except in passing — her role is barely hinted at in the actual defeat of Big Rob, as it’s called. So wanting to know what happened to characters that weren’t focused on was a big failing for me, but one that only happened after the aftershock of finishing the book sort of waned.
I took issue with the end of the book because [HUGE SPOILER] a robot ends up killing Big Rob. For most of the book, I was under the impression that humans were going to triumph over the big bad. With the introduction of ‘free robots’ who are separate from the ‘bad robots,’ it suddenly became I. Robot by Isaac Asimov to me.
Now, onto things that I liked. And boy, did I like them.
The devil is in the detail, as they say, and Wilson sure snuck a lot in there for such a short novel. The reader doesn’t even realize they’re learning as they go. I was reeling from diving into a new world and situation that I didn’t realize hints were being dropped throughout the piece and once I realized I needed to pay attention, the web of the story began to appear between these floating bits of information, anchoring them to each other. The technicality of revealing only what needed to be revealed was amazing.
The writing. I can’t say anything about the writing other than I have no idea what makes it so amazing, but it is. I’m hoping, again, that Cheri can shed some light on this, but whatever he does, I want to learn how to do. So amazingly engaging and descriptive, but still straight forward and plain.
For our blog’s sake, I’ve been paying attention to diversity in everything and I’m pleased to say that this book was quite diverse. A few perspectives came from minority characters (Japanese and Native American) and the perspectives were believably from someone from that culture’s mindset. I am usually very picky when it comes to Japanese interpretations, but this, to me at least, was very inoffensive.
Which brings me to: believability. This book was very believable which is why I called my brother and told him that he should come home — not in that it is a possibility for a robot apocalypse to happen in the present, but rather, in that world, the robot apocalypse was completely going to happen. The different perspectives from each character was very different from all the rest so that you remembered characters after their chapters ended. Which is part of why I wanted to see more from some of the characters — I got attached even if they only had a short paragraph.
I was told since third grade that thesis papers end in: in conclusion, so that’s why I end a lot of reviews that way.
So, in conclusion, this was a great action packed book for people who aren’t terribly familiar with the classics of the genre (or World War Z apparently). The characters are completely believable and the story, like Romeo and Juliet, is more about the journey and not so much the conclusion. I did have a few problems with it, though, which is why I rate it a four out of five potatoes. A great read and everyone should go and get it.