Our robot overlords are very confused.

Right up front: yes, I can see why Robopocalypse is often compared to World War Z.  I think it’s an unfair comparison–WWZ is well-written.  What follows beneath the cut is both spoilery and largely unaffectionate.

First off; the good.

  1. Robopocalypse has a beautifully done conceit for its frame story.
  2. The “Roughneck” chapter is one of the most genuinely chilling things I’ve read in a while; even when you know what’s going to happen, it manages to build up a slowly growing dread.  It’s bleak and doomed and lonely, would work beautifully as a standalone story, and I think it’s where the author really shines.
  3. Stylistically speaking, Nomura is interesting; more interesting is that none of his “friends” are humanoid robots. They’re the little trundling postbox, the (somewhere off-screen) convenience-store machines, the factory machines. Mikiko is humanoid, of course–more approachably so than most lovedolls, judging by her description–but she’s inactive. I’m wondering if it’s a deliberate stylistic decision. I read the scenes with him and the image that comes to mind is very strongly that of a sorceror in his cave, conjuring up strange spirits and surrounded by something inhuman and fantastic.He doesn’t have humanoid servants; he doesn’t have slaves. He has little magic helpers. This makes him more palatable, strips out the idea of him being outnumbered (because by the time you read “Akuma”, which is book 3 chapter 1, you start getting veeeeerrry twitchy about humanoid robots and cars, so seeing him surrounded by humanoid robots would evoke an eye-rolling), and distinguishes in the mental eye between his helpers and the bad robots.

Okay.  Now, the bad.

  1. The redundancy.The repetition in most of the closing pieces for each chapter is really very annoying. I am aware there is a war. This book I am reading, it is called Robopocalypse, and I have cleverly made an inference from that title. Plus there was the frame story setup in the introduction, so I know how the war ended. And I’m okay with this! But it does mean that there is not a lot of dramatic tension; there’s more mild curiosity.
  2. Sloppy construction and consistency.
    • F’r ex: Once the robots have taken over, there is a chapter with (former) congresswoman Perez.  It’s introduced as the account of events she gave under “extreme duress”.  The chapter begins by explaining she’s in a work camp; it continues through some of the things that have been done and her daughter’s escape; and it ends with her not escaping and ending up waiting to die.  And then the omniscient voice-over says there’s no further record of her.

      To recap: the woman is securely imprisoned in a concentration camp with a ton of security, the black box of the New War is recording everything, and somehow she vanishes so completely that the Archos does not bother to do so much as note “hey, that woman I tried to get killed even beforethe uprising, since the Robot Defense Act she was supporting is such a big deal? I lost track of her, not even noting that she was left in a cell and then wasn’t in it next morning or something, forget my own head next.”

      Perez’s story would have been a lot more poignant if she died, a lot more plausible given the situation–she’s inside a work camp waiting to have her throat crushed!–and there would be a lot less wondering who interviewed her. All the information comes from the black box of the New War. If the robots interviewed her, it really doesn’t sound like she was under extreme duress–I cannot imagine this character relaying things so calmly and clearly to the robots that were torturing her and that had cut out the eyes of her baby girl. If humans interviewed her, and the black box somehow recorded it (but didn’t mention them getting her out), I would like to shake the humans’ teeth out because there is nothing to be gained from hurting her until she talks.

      Honestly, what the hell is meant to be the chain of events surrounding her statement?

    • Also, the narrative voice setting up the frame at the beginning and end of chapters occasionally seems to forget what it knows:

      Beginning of chapter: “It [this message] was retransmitted worldwide by Mathilda Perez in New York City.”
      End of chapter: “In addition, there is deeply dismaying evidence that this call to arms was received abroad.”

  3. The pointless actions.
    What, exactly, is the point of the Robot Defense Act? Why does Archos care if it gets passed or not?  He’s already got control of the vast majority of robots.  If the Act gets passed–really, what is the problem?
  4. The cast.  Oh, boy, the cast and the assumptions.
    • I am fairly sure not all babies are pink, and that not all progress stems from the ones that are. An impersonal brilliant robot soon-to-be-overmind would be a little more convincing if he wasn’t coming across like a newscaster on one of those alien invasion movies where all the tactical maps show nothing is happening north of the 49th parallel.
    • There are not a lot of female characters, only two female narrators, and one is a child and the other was portrayed as a Strident Disbeliever (so why *did* she work on the RDA again?).  I am… not seeing anything like the suburban housewife I was fully prepared to hate who hulked out and tore a zombie’s head off, I’m just saying.

      (Heh. The article I was reading the same morning that I started this novel was Scalzi’s piece on great female characters in science fiction movies, a list which runs (1) Ellen Ripley, (2) Sarah Connor (from T2, which was an excellent movie), Princess Leia sort of, and then one descends into spinny ninja killbot babes that are fighting zombies/robots/evil totalitarian regimes/something faceless, pick one. Oh, Robopocalypse, this was not a good morning for us to meet.)

Finally, I think this book loses a *lot* by not taking full advantage of the conceit of the story. I mean, you can have a lot more messages from the dead than you could in WWZ, and when I realized that I was halfway through and had only found one, I sort of lost hope.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *