Saturday, November 01, 2014

7 Days of Novels: Robogenesis by Daniel H Wilson

RobogenesisDaniel Wilson is to the robot apocalypse what Mira Grant is to the zombie. At least, that's what I gather from my very, very short history with his work. I'm fairly certain I had heard of his 2011 novel Robopocalypse before I was given the sequel, Robogenesis, as a gift, but I had never read it. Indeed, the title is generic enough to blend in with the background noise even for a blogger who doesn't have the time to keep his ear as close to the ground of Sci-Fi literature as I'd like to. Still, I received the novel as a gift and it had a flashy cover and an interesting premise, so I dug into it.

The first thing I noticed about the novel was that it was probably a sequel. This wasn't just because it had “Bestselling author of Robopocalypse” plastered on the cover. A surprising (based on their starting points in this book, anyway) number of characters had a history with one another with only minimal reasoning within the book. As with any other clear sequel, I filed this fact away to be factored in after reading the book.

I don't know how much of the plot of Robopocalypse is explained in Robogenesis, but enough of it is. The important thing to know is that there was a war between Skynet Artificial Intelligence Archos R-14 and mankind. Civilization was all but destroyed during the war, which lasted several years, and the recurring characters seem to be the heroes of it. I held out hope for a short time that these were minor players that had little to do with the resolution of the first novel and therefore had more of a character arc ahead of them, but unfortunately this doesn't seem to be the case. Anything else this story tells about the first book is window dressing, and when I eventually get to reading Robopocalypse it will be interesting to compare the two.

The premise of Robogenesis is that Archos R-14 was secretly preparing humanity for what would be called the “True War”, a war in which one of its predecessors was going to take up its own hand at challenging humanity, this time in order to wipe out all sentient life. In the midst of all this, new life – life that is not carbon-based, but is otherwise organic – is arising across the world and nobody seems to know why. The novel is split into three parts: one in which the threat is established, one in which its depth is explored, and one in which the “True War” occurs. Each of these parts introduces another character from the previous war, as well as a look at a different part of the world than where the majority of the action is taking place: part one looking at another AI in Russia as it discovers the threat, part two looking at the “freeborn” society of robots, and part three looking at the apparent “birth”-place of the freeborn mentality (program?) in Japan. These segments provide greater scope to the story, but I have mixed feelings about them in general. They come across clearly as the “B” story, and only occasionally intersect the “A” plot. A few more drafts working on combining these “okay” stories with the larger plot would have made them all the more interesting.

As for the main plot, I found myself heavily drawn into it. The world-building here is incredible, taking into account both how people would feel during the war and after, as well as how that influenced society as a whole. Unfortunately, it does seem to have some issues with looking at Points A, B and C on a map, and treating the area in between as a great white void that characters hop through between chapters. The parts that do receive attention in the narrative though are engrossing, and I could easily see a movie being made of it, despite covering ground that Terminator, The Matrix, and other films have covered.

Despite covering this ground, there are some original concepts here. The first is that Archos R-14 and Robogenesis's antagonist Arate (R-8) Shah are far from being the only high-level artificial intelligences in this world. Chapter 3 establishes that there are other, equivalent-level AI units all over the world, created by different governments. The names of the antagonists and some of the information they reveal indicates that they aren't even the only American units of their type to go rogue. R-14 stands for “Revision 14”, which is short for saying “Americans have produced Skynet 14 times, and lost control of it every time”. This is mind-blowing information. If you thought it was intense having one group of robots take over the world and either enslave or try to destroy humanity, imagine there being 20 or more such intelligences, each with their own agenda. With that many, I wouldn't be shocked if The Matrix's Architect isn't one of them.

Another new concept is the idea that R-14 was fashioning cyborgs. There are several versions of this throughout the novel, from humans that are enslaved and used as weapons, only to be given control of themselves at the end of the Robopocalypse's “New War”. There were also quite a few human children who simply had mechanical parts grafted to them, that had the added effect in the social climate of Robogenesis of making their thoughts part machine and turning them into a unique force that were immensely useful in the “True War”.

Robogenesis is a delight to read, introducing a unique version of an old conflict and filled with unique characters. My biggest gripe is that not all of the characters were given enough page-time to live up to their true potential, and this is from someone who hasn't read the book that half of them (if not more) were introduced in. I look forward to reading more in this series and I think that most people who enjoy Sci-Fi action novels will feel the same way.

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