Robopocalypse – Annoying Humans Vs Terrifying AI

Robopocalypse Book Cover

The most annoying attribute of America is the belief in ‘American Exceptionalism’. The chest-thumping howling of the indispensable and hope-inducing nature of North America by their politicians makes us back away with repugnance. There are many unique, positive and admirable qualities to America, but recurrently making out a self-congratulatory portrait just feels ridiculous. Once upon a time, the Greeks must have staunchly believed in ‘Greek exceptionalism’, Egyptians and Romans on the ‘unconquerable’ status, then in modern history Britain indulged with that fantasy. Of course, we can imagine how the Nazi propaganda machine would have reveled to infect this world with ‘Aryan exceptionalism’ concept, had the outcome of World War II been different. So, when America proclaims that it’s indispensable and exceptional, we can’t contain our sarcastic smirk. Apart from the American politicians, America’s vital propaganda vehicle called as ‘Hollywood’ proposes the same idea with palatable, glitzy visuals. These propaganda are definitely entertaining and the related technological achievements are just awe-inspiring. Then, there are numerous, best-selling American novels that brood upon the easily cashable ‘virtuosity’ of the United States. As a teenager, I would have taken in those American novels and movies with wide-eyed astonishment. But, one brief, dispassionate examination of America’s history and its alleged moral superiority is enough to strike down that wonder. Daniel H. Wilson’s 2011 sci-fi novel “Robopocalypse” (Spielberg has been involved for a long time to adapt this novel) is one such irritating showcase of American exceptionalism, in the name of war between humans and evil robots.

Is Robopocalypse entertaining? In the cinematic form, would it have glorious stunt sequences and become a huge box-office hit? I must say, Yes. It proposes a scary future that seems utterly believable. The author Wilson, who has earned a Ph,D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, energetically and precisely indicates how a evolved AI would use our cars, cellphones and other advanced gadgets to march human race into oblivion. But, it’s neither groundbreaking nor totally gripping like Michael Crichton’s novels (as the book’s cover had promised). After the action-packed spectacle in the opening passages, we learn that the war against mankind and evil cybernetic being had just finished. The humans after lot of setbacks and billions of deaths have survived. The protagonist Cormac Wallace of ‘Bright Boy’ Squad discovers a large black cube, which the evil AI Archos has used to record variety of footage that chronicles human’s war with robots.

Author Daniel H. Wilson

Author Daniel H. Wilson

Structured as a collection of war-time descriptions, the narrative jumps between set of characters to recount their bravery and intelligence. Three Native American war-boys, one big Afro-American war hero, Two, stereotypical all-American white guys, one exotic as well as brave Native American girl, one old Japanese guy, 12 year old American girl with newly gained powers, couple of hardened, city-dwelling American couples, and a humanoid robot that helps humans – are all the central characters, whose sacrifices are recorded in the chapters. None of the characters get enough space to break away from the author’s stereotypical depiction. Wilson was brilliant in making us imagine the terrifying robotic war machines (pluggers, big-happy, stumpers, spider-tanks, etc) but the imagination drops to zero, when depicting the struggles of human characters.

It is pretty evident that Wilson wants to emulate the magic of Max Brooks’ zombie-apocalypse novel “World War Z”. While the Hollywood version turned the magnificent novel into a mundane block-buster film, Max Brooks’ structured vignettes are increasingly fascinating to read. Brooks’ globe-trotting journey, envisioned in the novel, worked as an allegory for the never-ceasing power struggles that afflict the contemporary Geo-political arena. The horrors accounted in each brief episode were also emotionally resonating. By stripping off the localized, American exceptionalism from “World War Z”, and taking on eagle-eyed approach, Max Brooks provided us space to ruminate upon the good, bad, and ugly side of our world. Hence, the positive ending which salutes human’s surviving capacity seemed to be part of the organic flow. But, since “Robopocalypse” only deals with 8 to 10 (unrelatable) characters within a limited demo-graph, its episodic structure never attains the epic scope of “World War Z”. The characters are literally designed for Hollywood rationalization and annoying, jingoistic attitudes. There’s a passing reference to East Europeans and Asians, participating in the war against robots. Alas, they fail and their frozen corpses lay in cold Alaskan plains. Michael Crichton’s novels would have typical, hackneyed characters, but his great works possesses the undeniable ability to grip us from first to last. Daniel Wilson doesn’t have the verve to weave that magic. It is a real pity when the one character you actually feel for is a humanoid robot. And, the truly exceptional episode in the book doesn’t involve any of the boring, central characters (the chapter named ‘Roughneck’). May be, Spielberg’s lean pacing combined with towering special affects the novel’s aloof narration (although my inner feeling says that even Spielberg could only transform this material into a soulless Hollywood product).

“Robopocalypse” is definitely not the visionary fiction I expected. It will be an entertaining page-turner for those who can ignore or put-up with nauseating characters, upholding the myth of ‘American exceptionalism’.


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