My friends know that Robopocalypse and I did not get along. We had a rocky relationship, one built on the misunderstanding that this was going to be an intelligent book about a robot apocalypse. *Fun and unrelated fact: my coworker informed me that this is his favorite type of apocalypse.* Anyway, not only did I dislike the writing of the book, but the characters--even the ones that were interesting--didn't have any sort of resolution or purpose, and some of them disappeared mid-book. Then there was the ending. My, my. I sincerely believe that Wilson wrote Robogenesis solely because he finally realized how utterly ridiculous the ending to Robopocalypse was.
From here on out, there be massive spoilers to both books, so if you dare to follow me into the binary simulacrum of a heart of these books, meet me after the jump.
Hi! You made it! Awesome! We are going to have lots and lots of fun with this. Because I had absolutely zero (0) fun reading this.
It's been awhile since I read the first book, but I can tell you this with certainty: the ending was horrible. Wilson wrote himself into a corner and what happened was the Big Evil Mind-Controlling Robot was destroyed by having a large rock dropped on him. This is not even deus ex machina, it's like deus ex petros or something (I don't speak Latin, but I pretend). Really. Really. I spent how many pages following the boring exploits of super-solder-perfect-man Cormac and the awesome robotelepathic messiah girl Mathilda to find out that all you needed to do was drop a rock on it? Sheesh, that's easier than putting a ring on it.
Here we are now, a few years later, starting up with Robogenesis. I tried very, very, very hard to go into this with a relatively unbiased mind. I legitimately wanted this one to make up for the failings of its predecessor. I mean, the author is an expert on robotics and AI. This could be really cool, right?
Literary evisceration is a hobby of mine, and I feel kind of bad about it, particularly after reading more about the author himself, who seems like a really cool, smart guy. It's also super-awesome to have a successful Native writer. Which is why I feel so bummed about writing this review. So, to sum up: Daniel Wilson seems pretty awesome, he did intrigue me with this book and I'll probably read the last one to see what he does, but I really didn't like Robogenesis.
Wilson splits the novel into three parts, supposedly to examine the lives of three characters: Lark Iron Horse, Mathilda Perez, and Cormac Wallace. Neither Lark nor Mathilda have a lot to do in their eponymous sections. Cormac, a little more, because a) we're near the end of the book and b) Cormac is a HERO and c) this means he must help save the world again.
At the end of the first book, Lark Iron Horse, member of the Gray something something, was attacked by a robot parasite and turned into a walking corpse parasite robot thing. Basically, the robot hacks his brain and gives him metal limbs but somehow still needs his meat brain ...??? I don't know. Anyway. Now that humanity has won the war (yay), Lark finds his way back to the army and begins marching home with them, because the general is like his adoptive father. They return to Gray Horse, where the Osage Nation has their government, but things start to change really quickly when Aryat takes control of Cotton--a bitter army member--'s brain.
TANGENT ALERT: Okay, so in my research, I found out that Daniel Wilson is Cherokee. He provides a great explanation of how and why Native governments (which still exist today, hello, because Native people are not extinct!) would be able to withstand a robot apocalypse: they have their own schools, doctors, leaders--everything centrally located and self-contained.
Anyway, the zombie guy. Right. What Lark Iron Horse's section is actually about is a) a Russian supercomputer kept safe during the New War and defended by a rather kick-butt janitor with an ax, b) the RETURN OF ARCHOS-14 (i.e. the Bad Guy of the first book), and the appearance of Arayt (Archos-8), the New Bad Guy. While Lark is traipsing through the tundra, Vasily, a Russian janitor who has been hiding another supercomputer named Maxim in the far eastern reaches of Russia, attempts to help Maxim fight off an attack by ... Archos-14. Somehow just slightly before being squashed by a large rock, Archos sent out copies of itself in, like earthquakes or something? Yes, that was fully intended to be an interrogative sentence because I really had no idea what was going on. Vasily says, "Now I realize. The seismic disturbance was not a message. And it was not a virus. It was a copy. The DNA of an intelligence that has arrived like a seed, curled in on itself." Right. Sure. Okay. So, Vasily busts out his trusty axe, barricades himself in the basement with Maxim, and attempts to isolate the Archos personality in an area of computational stacks that can then be destroyed. Some pretty weird stuff goes down, but I actually quite liked the interaction between Maxim and Vasily. Vasily was a man of few words and much ax, and I liked that too. Unfortunately, after the confusing "battle" scene between Maxim and Archos, we don't meet up with him ever again. Rats. I liked him.
Oh, well, time to go back to the other characters. Like Lark Iron Horse, who follows Cotton to an isolated shack and witnesses him speaking to a malicious (we know it is a Bad Robot because Bad Robot speak looks like orange light and Good Robot speak looks like blue light ... don't ask) orange light-cube-thing that drills into Cotton's skull. Lark then proceeds to tell nobody and figures things will get sorted out by themselves, you know, as you do when you see robtech burrow into someone's gray matter.
Lark, being a zombie-robot hybrid, feels like it's none of his business anymore, tracks down the Blue Light to Fort Collins, Colorado. This is where all of the "freeborn" (i.e. self-determining) robots have gathered to form their own mini-civilization. Well, not really in Fort Collins. In Cheyenne Mountain. In NORAD.
Whew, thank goodness we finished part one. On to ... Mathilda Perez! This is the young woman who I felt was unjustly ignored in the first volume. Perhaps it's for the best, because she's actually a pretty one-dimensional character. She's the child Messiah archetype. Archos-14 had these camps where he experimented on kids and fused robtech with their flesh. Mathilda has robot eyes. She can also communicate telepathically with the robots, especially Arbiter Nine-Oh-Two, a super-duper fighting machine robot who killed Archos-14 (but not really, as we all know by now). She's on the run with her little brother Nolan, but thanks to a series of poor decisions, they are separated and Nolan is captured by the Tribe, which is an army allied with Aryat (the Bad Robot of this book) and led by a madman named Felix. There is a completely superfluous chapter which describes Nolan's slavery in the army and their fighting conditions. Mathilda, in trying to find Nolan, ends up contacting other robo-sighted children like herself.
Oh my gosh, just summarizing this is boring.
Right. Then we get to part three, where Cormac, super soldier and HERO, and his girlfriend Cherrah are trying to get out of the arctic wasteland. They just about ready to die at the pincers/claws/guns of Aryat's monster robots when ... hark! What is that I see? Why, 'tis Houdini, Cormac's quasi-pet robot gun fighter thing, which he seems to value more than his girlfriend. Yay! Happy reunion! Double yay! Cherrah is pregnant! This is a great way to remove more strong women from the narrative--by saddling them with babies. But boo! Cotton/Aryat has purged Gray Horse of any non-Native people, and Cormac is white. So they trek back across the country to ... NORAD. Everyone and their mother shows up at NORAD. There is a very large battle which I didn't understand at all because it was so all over the place and Aryat is not-quite-dead-yet but he does give a rousingly cheestastic monologue. I wanted to hit myself with a rock.
Actually, the two robot intelligences get the best (ha ha ha ha ha) lines in the book. Archos-14 explains to Vasily: "On the day you know as Zero Hour ... humankind believes I initiated attacks worldwide in an attempt to destroy you. This is untrue. In actuality, humankind was on the verge of a war that in all probability would have wiped out your species ... In response, I triggered the New War. I decimated the human race, regrettably. But I did so with one purpose: to forge a hybrid fighting force capable of surviving the True War."
Seriously? Book one was not a malicious attack by Archos, but rather an attempt to save humanity??? Sure. Because the best way to save humanity is to kill innocent people. Lots of them. In horrifying and torturous ways. That's messed up.
But my favorite over-the-top, Ernst-Stavro-Blofeld-worthy speech comes at the end, and it emanates from Aryat. *ahem*
"And it is mine. All of the supercluster is finally mine. A decade of planning interrupted by the New War. Two armies raised and countless battles fought. The relentless annihilation of sighted children and freeborn machines and modified humans. All for this prize ... In the dark depths, my emerging Buddha-mind gnashes its teeth at the horrible complexity of reality. When I turn my gaze upon the survivors of the New War they will burst into purifying flame."
O-kay. Wait, let me get you a fuzzy cat so you can pet it whilst making megalomaniacal plans in a secret base.
Unfortunately, the end-end did make me curious to see how everything comes out in the end. I will probably subject myself to book three just to see what happens. As an exercise in literary masochism and just to satisfy my own curiosity.
There are far too many similarities between this and John Barnes' Daybreak series, like the idea of a wild and deadly Tribe threatening civilization, the whole post-apocalyptic setting, and the AI-taking-over-human-brain angle.
Wow, I just realized that I didn't even touch on the exceedingly bizarre scenes set in Japan. I ... I can't.
Skip this and read ... heck, read anything else instead.
Okay, not Twilight. Don't read that.