Daniel H. Wilson – Robopocalypse and Amped

Mar 3rd, 2013 by Sebastian in news

robopocalypse_wilson_coverI must admit, when I first saw Robopocalypse on the shelves of various local bookstores, my first thought was, “what a cheesy title!” I didn’t bother even picking it up, it was so obvious what the book was about. Hmmm, maybe it is not such a bad title after all. Then I heard that the book was to be made into a film, and my reaction was, “Hasn’t that already been done? I think there is something out there called The Terminator…” In other words, I was simply biased against the book. But there is a reason for the old saying, “never judge a book by its cover.” Namely, if you write a review of a book you haven’t read, you will suffer eternal internet flames. But in any case, I am happy to report that when the book appeared in my local library, I overcame my prejudices and actually started reading between the covers.

And delighted I was indeed to find that I just couldn’t put it down. Turns out, Mr. Wilson is one of those science fiction authors who actually knows something about science (he has one of those fancy PhDs and everything). The result of which was a completely believable scenario (once you accept the premise of a self-aware machine intelligence) that did not have me rolling my eyes in disbelief every few pages. And no annoying time-travel contrivances either.

Admittedly, I was a bit annoyed by the structure of the book, which is essentially a collection of related short stories that tell the history of the man/machine war in retrospect. I couldn’t help feeling that the whole thing could have been much meatier. But in the end, I came away satisfied and not bloated by the fast pace. So much so that I am actually looking forward to the film, should it come to pass. We could expect a version directed by Steven Spielberg, if this article is to be believed, and that could be something awesome.

ampedAs a result of my positive experience with Robopocalypse, I did not hesitate a minute when I saw Amped on the shelves. In this case, the title is not so self-explanatory. The central conceit of Amped is that a relatively simple medical procedure can place a “Neural Autofocus” implant in any human brain and greatly enhance its intelligence (and reflexes, if you have the special military-grade module). This leads to a conflict between the “enhanced” humans and the rest of society, driven by an unscrupulous senator. Amped was also a compelling read, but on the whole, I found it to be less compelling than Wilson’s previous book, possibly because he was writing outside of his field of expertise (robotics). And although it eschews the episodic structure of Robopocalypse, it shares the same sort of rushed feeling. The protagonists arc from helpless bystander to godlike saviour is as fast as it is predictable.

Having tried my hand at writing fiction as well, I think I understand what is driving Wilson. In an urge to get to the point, in our impatience to tell the story we want to tell, it can seem tedious to worry about things like complex narrative, description or character. And while Wilson succeeds in his story telling, the reader is left wishing for a richer experience. Nevertheless, I look forward to his next work of fiction.

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