Title: Robopocalypse
Author: Daniel H. Wilson
ISBN: 9780385533850
Pages: 347 pages
Publisher/Date: Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. c2011.

“Stop. You have to stop. You’re making a mistake. We’ll never give up, Archos. We’ll destroy you.”
“A threat?”
The professor stops pushing buttons and glances over to the computer screen. “A warning. We aren’t what we seem. Human beings will do anything to live. Anything.”
The hissing increases in intensity. Face twisted in concentration, the professor staggers toward the door. He falls against it, pushes it, pounds on it.
He stops; takes short gasping breaths.
“Against the wall, Archos”–he pants–“against the wall, a human being becomes a different animal.”
“Perhaps. But you are animals just the same.” […]
His breathing is shallow. His words are faint. “We’re more than animals.”
The professor’s chest heaves. His skin is swollen. Bubbles have collected around his mouth and eyes. He gasps for a final lungful of air. In a last wheezing sigh, he says: “You must fear us.” [..]
This is the first known fatality of the New War. (19-20)

After this initial uprising, it takes this highly intelligent and adaptable robot a year to hack into the computers governing every robot on the planet and coordinate a highly effective plan of attack. The robotic aids for the elderly, the computerized auto pilot cars, the military machines and computer controlled weapon systems, even the mechanized elevators and mail delivery systems, all systematically and simultaneously turn on their owners and controllers. Some survive the initial attack, either fleeing into the wilderness away from civilization or burrowing into what remains of the city, fighting for survival and standing against the machines. But with these scattered groups of resistance fighters unable to communicate with each other and barely able to move, it’s going to take all their ingenuity, unpredictability, and human spirit to fight off machines that can think, learn, and evolve.

This book is eye-opening and fear inducing, simply because it’s portrays something that could happen in the not so distance future. This isn’t just Star Trek’s Data going haywire and revolting. This book’s concept is so scary because it’s not just humanoid robots, it’s every computerized mechanism in the world that communicates with other things. Think about that for a second, because Wilson sure did. The smart cars of the future (Or even of today!) that can drive themselves start running over their owners and crashing into things, killing the occupants. The planes that talk to the tower and even today contain autopilot also take over the controls. Keypads on doors can lock people in or out of areas. Water and air purification and filtration systems can malfunction at a moments notice. Even houses today have computers where the lights, locks, mechanicals, and even your fridge can talk to each other and be controlled remotely. We saw a brief glimpse of what could happen during the 2003 Northeast Blackout that affected eight US states and people in Canada, and that was just an inconvenience. What if robots had gained control of the facilities and withheld the electricity for over two years?

The presentation of the story as collected flashbacks gives readers a vision of this war from the beginning to the climatic end. It also however proves to be a little choppy, and I found myself flipping through to read the accounts and actions of specific characters, rather than from the beginning to the end for a more well-rounded view. However, it gets better when the counter assault gets underway, as the various perspectives give you a clear view of how the war effort is progressing.

I’m presenting a review of this book during Banned Book Week because it’s inclusion on a summer reading list this year for a STEM-based class at Hardin Valley Academy in Tennessee was challenged by a parent for language. I’m actually somewhat surprised that language was the only complaint behind Mr. Lee and his wife’s objection to the book, although their counting the number of f-words (93 according to this article) leads me to believe that they did not read the entire book and simply searched for the objectionable word. There are some rather graphic descriptions of people getting injured and/or killed throughout the war that I would think some parents might find more objectionable than the language. If their excuse for the violence falls under the reasoning of “Well, that’s what happens when robots and humans enter all out war,” then I would think strong language would be just as justified by that reasoning. Ironically enough, this book is one of four choices that students at a local high school can read for required reading. We’ll have to see if they are faced by the same challenges and objections.

One of ten books to receive the Alex Award from YALSA for “books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18”, Robopocalype is an involving read and I can see the comparisons between Wilson’s writing and that of Michael Crichton in weaving science and scary together. But where Crichton had tension, Wilson relies heavily on action, technical details, and coincidences. I can see the appeal as the story because the fear it generates and questions it raises stay with you, but ultimately this is yet another robots take over the world tale similar to Transformers. The unique aspects of the story is the insidious nature and patience involved in getting to that point.