Books: Robopocalypse

I checked this book on CD out of the library at the librarian’s recommendation, when I was looking for something we could listen to during our trip to Michigan and back for Zach’s graduation. I mentioned that we all like science fiction, so Pam suggested Robopocalypse.

It’s a reasonably interesting story (at least it kept me alert while driving hour after hour, although Jon managed to fall asleep a few times while it played). We would have preferred less coarse language, but it likely is fairly realistic considering that the book is all about fighting a war.

It’s not a war between human armies, however, but between humans and machines. One very smart machine had concluded that it was the culmination of human evolution, and that its imperfect flesh-and-blood precursors needed to be eliminated to stop them from doing further damage to other life forms.

One might expect, with such a premise, that the book might have a luddite view of humans good, machines bad. But in fact humans find that they cannot fight the enemy artificial intelligence and its mechanical minions without the assistance of machines of their own (machines from which the intelligence has been removed, or where the communications links have been disabled so they cannot be controlled by the enemy AI).

Since the book opens with the end of the war and humans still alive, it’s no spoiler to say that humans win the war. The rest of the book is to tell how the war began, progressed, and ended. In the early stages, before the war begins in earnest, it is interesting to see how people react to machines that turn against them. But once the war starts it’s really just another war story.

As with many wars, this conflict brings diverse groups of people together to fight a common enemy. Most examples show humans acting nobly, but as with any crisis there are those who care more about self-preservation than helping others.

The novel touches on issues such as what it means to be human, what it means to be alive (can a self-conscious machine be said to be alive?), and of course the danger of turning over too much power/responsibility to machines. I would have enjoyed the book more if it explored these issues more deeply.

Hardly a great book, but good enough as entertainment while driving. And if Steven Spielberg ever does make the movie version that he says is still on his to-do list, I’ll probably watch it – after it comes out on DVD.

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