Daniel H. Wilson
Doubleday, 368 pages, June 2011
Reviews, excerpt, and explanations edited by Andy Ross
Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2011:
In the not-too-distant future,
robots have made our lives a lot easier: they help clean our kitchens, drive
our cars, and fight our wars — until they are turned into efficient
murderers by a sentient artificial intelligence buried miles below the
surface of Alaska. Robopocalypse is a fast-paced sci-fi thriller that makes
a strong case that mindless fun can also be wildly inventive. The war is
told as an oral history, assembled from interviews, security camera footage,
and first- and secondhand testimonies, similar to Max Brooks' zombie epic
World War Z.
Guest Reviewer Robert
Robopocalypse is as good as Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain or
Jurassic Park, an end of the world story about a coming
machine-versus-man war. I couldn't stop
turning the pages.
Set in a future only a few weeks away, the world is still our
world, where advancements in silicon-chip technology and artificial
intelligence have given us rudimentary android laborers and cars that can
get around without human drivers.
The war begins the fourteenth time
a scientist named Nicholas Wasserman wakes an amped-up artificial
intelligence dubbed Archos. In a protected lab environment designed to
contain his creation, Wasserman has awakened the sentient computer
intelligence thirteen previous times, always with the same result: Archos
realizes that it loves that rarest of miracles — life — above all else, and to
preserve life on Earth, it must destroy mankind. This wasn't exactly what
Wasserman wanted to hear, so thirteen times before, a disappointed Wasserman
killed it and returned to the drawing board. But unlike Archos, Wasserman is
a man, and men make mistakes. Now, on this fourteenth awakening, a simple
(but believable) error by the scientist allows Archos to escape the barrier
of the lab. And the war is on.
When Archos goes live, its control
spreads like a virus as it reprograms the everyday devices of our lives,
from cell phones to ATM machines to traffic lights to airliners.
The book is rich with
high-speed-action set pieces and evocative ... but Robopocalype is a terrific and affecting read because it is
about human beings we can relate to, invest in, and root for. By choosing to show us these events through the eyes of the men
and women involved, Wilson gives us a high-speed, real-time history of the
war on its most human level, and it is our investment in these characters
and their desperate struggle that grabs us and pulls us along at a furious
In lesser hands, the story could have been head-shot with
pseudo-science technical jargon, overwrought explanation, and cartoonish
characterizations. Instead, Wilson has given us a richly populated and
thrilling novel that celebrates life and humanity.
"It's terrific page-turning fun."
— Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly
"Things pop along at a wonderfully breakneck pace, and by letting his
characters reveal themselves through their actions, Wilson creates
characters that spring to life. Vigorous, smart and gripping."
"A brilliantly conceived thriller that
grip your imagination from the first word to the last, on a wild rip you
won't soon forget. What a read ... unlike anything I've read before."
Cussler, New York Times bestselling author
"An Andromeda Strain for
the new century, this is visionary fiction at its best: harrowing,
brilliantly rendered, and far, far too believable."
— Lincoln Child, New York
Times bestselling author of Deep Storm
"Robopocalypse reminded me of
Michael Crichton when he was young and the best in the business. This novel
is brilliant, beautifully conceived, beautifully written (high-five, Dr.
Wilson) ... but what makes it is the humanity. Wilson doesn't waste his time
writing about 'things,' he's writing about human beings — fear, love,
courage, hope. I loved it."
— Robert Crais, New York Times bestselling
author of The Sentry
"Futurists are already predicting the day
mankind builds its replacement, Artificial Intelligence. Daniel Wilson shows
what might happen when that computer realizes its creators are no longer
needed. Lean prose, great characters, and almost unbearable tension ensure
that Robopocalypse is going to be a blockbuster. Once started I defy anyone
to put it down."
— Jack DuBrul, New York Times bestselling author
"The parts of this book enter your mind, piece by piece, where they
self-assemble into a story that makes you think, makes you feel, and makes
— Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science
Behind the Fiction
The science of Robopocalypse
Daniel Wilson gives us a brief
excerpt from the opening of the novel Robopocalypse, then explains the scientific research that went into
Twenty minutes after the war
ends, I'm watching stumpers pour up out of a frozen hole in the ground like
ants from hell and praying that I keep my natural legs for another day.
Each walnut-sized robot is lost in the mix as they climb over each other
and the whole nightmare jumble of legs and antennae blend together into one
seething murderous mass.
With numb fingers, I fumble my goggles down over
my eyes and get ready to do some business with my little friend Rob, here.
It's an oddly quiet morning. Just the sigh of the wind through stark
tree branches and the hoarse whisper of a hundred-thousand explosive
mechanical hexapods searching for human victims. Up above, snow geese honk
to each other as they glide over the frigid Alaskan landscape.
war is over. It's time to see what we can find.
From where I'm
standing ten yards away from the hole, the killer machines look almost
beautiful in the dawn, like candy spilled out onto the permafrost.
squint into the sunlight, my breath billowing out in pale puffs, and sling
my battered old flamethrower off my shoulder. With one gloved thumb, I
depress the ignite button.
The thrower doesn't light.
Needs to warm up, so to speak. But they're getting closer. No sweat.
I've done this dozens of times. The trick is to be calm and methodical, just
like them. Rob must've rubbed off on me after the first couple years.
Now I see the individual stumpers. A tangle of barbed legs
attached to a bifurcated shell. I know from experience that each side of the
shell contains a different fluid. The texture and heat of human skin
initiates a trigger-state. The fluids combine. POP! Somebody wins a brand
They don't know I'm here. But the scouts are
spreading out in semi-random patterns based on Big Rob's study of foraging
ants. The robots learned so much about us, about nature.
It won't be
I begin to back away slowly.
you bastard," I mutter.
That was a mistake: to talk.
The heat from my breath is like a beacon. The flood of horror surges my way,
quiet and fast.
A lead stumper climbs onto my boot.
Gotta be careful now. Can't react. If it pops I'm minus a foot, best case.
I should never have come here alone.
Now the flood
is at my feet. I feel a tug on my frost-covered shin-guard as the leader
climbs me like a mountain. Metal-filament antennae tap, tap, tap along,
questing for the tell-tale heat of human flesh.
Christ. C'mon, c'mon, c'mon.
There's going to be a
temperature differential at my waist level, where the armor chinks. A
torso-level trigger-state in body armor isn't a death sentence, but it
doesn't look good for my balls, either.
My goal for
Robopocalypse is to depict a terrifying, hyper-realistic future in which our
familiar technology has run amuck and then evolved. Toward that end, I found
inspiration and guidance by drawing on real-world robotics research.
I'm not trying to sound like a pretentious ass hat by saying that a lot of
real robotics research went into my writing. I agree that science fiction is
full of great, realistic robots that came straight from the imagination. All
I'm saying is that my own creative process was to build on existing research
in order to provide grounding for the dozens of unique robots that spy,
stalk, and fight through the Robopocalypse.
Here's a glimpse of that
process. The following is a breakdown of the decisions that went into the
creation of "stumpers," those nasty little bugs you just read about.
The "stumper" is a crawling landmine. It is described as an
insect-like, walnut-sized hexapod with filament antenna and a bifurcated
shell. Stumpers typically hide themselves in cold environments and emerge in
swarms upon detecting warm, bipedally-walking targets. Upon reaching a
skin-temperature trigger-state, the stumpers self-detonate.
The stumper is
designed to injure and terrify human beings over a wide range of hostile
outdoor environments for very little cost. The intelligence of a stumper is
built into its design, which is complex, and not its behavior, which is
Stumpers are mass-produced from cheap
materials. The body of each stumper is fashioned out of a few pieces of
stiff fabric. This creates a robust platform that
can locomote over varied terrain, resist crushing forces from being
air-dropped into action, and consume minimal energy.
Detecting body heat is accomplished via modified passive infrared
sensors (PIRs). Gait recognition is accomplished via filament antenna
attached to microphones that have been gated for desired vibrational
Upon detecting a
skin-temperature trigger-state, a stumper self-detonates by releasing stored
current from a capacitor, vaporizing a wire "plug" that separates two
liquids, which then explode on contact.
operate in structurally homogenous swarms with identical behavioral
strategies. Self-organization arises as each stumper obeys simple local
rules, similar to fish schooling or birds flocking. For example, each robot
stays a certain distance from the others while target seeking. The result is
an emergent behavior in which stumpers flow around obstacles and surround
prey. This decentralized approach is reactive and requires no active
communication; it minimizes processing by mapping sensory information
directly to action; and it requires no leader or central control. The loss
of an individual stumper causes no disruption to the behavior of the swarm.
Limited numbers of stumpers must distribute themselves
to maximize the probability of human contact. Distribution of a living
minefield requires only local communication. Through passive communication, each
stumper keeps a set distance from its neighbors, resulting in tunable
placement over a given area.
exploration of an area for resources by non-communicating agents falls under
the umbrella of a "foraging problem." Ant species have evolved numerous
effective solutions which have been replicated in autonomous multirobot
systems. Typically, these solutions result in randomized fractal paths
spreading outward from a central focal point. In addition, using body heat
to find human targets is a common "search and rescue" problem for robots
designed to operate in disaster zones.
communication between the robots is accomplished using vibration detection.
While in motion, stumpers generate a vibration tailored for easy recognition
by nearby comrades. This form of vibrational communication is modeled on
And that's a brief overview of the sort of decisions that
went into creating realistic robots for Robopocalypse. Luckily for the
reader, very few of these details explicitly make it into the book. However,
this level of realism is in my head as I write.
Steven Spielberg, 2013
A sci-fi story set in the aftermath of a
AR This novel wins the game I started
with Lifeball and and terminated with
G.O.D. Is Great.