None other than Steven Spielberg reached down from the heavens to option Daniel H. Wilson's new novel Robopocalypse. How does a 33-year-old robotics engineer become the heir apparent to Michael Crichton? Attracting a name like Spielberg certainly helps, but so does following the path of fellow science fiction upstart Max Brooks, who in 2003 broke through with the pithy parody The Zombie Survival Guide; the resulting novel, World War Z, will hit movie screens next summer, starring Brad Pitt.
Similarly, Wilson published the mock guidebook How to Survive a Robot Uprising in 2005, and Robopocalypse is its spinoff, a crisply efficient and intermittently chilling read that carries such propulsive energy you can practically see the film's storyboard.
Wilson enlists civilian-turned-robot war veteran Cormac "Bright Boy" Wallace to anchor a series of first-person flashbacks to various sides of the uprising, from its ominous beginnings to its conclusion in snowy Alaska (though there's room for a sequel, naturally).
As is often the case, the trouble begins when an artificial intelligence experiment called Archos grows just smart enough to kill its master. Often taking the disturbing form of a small child with an Auto-Tuned voice, Archos releases a virus that leads the planet's network of machines to violently turn on the human race.
Robot uprisings are well-worn territory in science fiction, and Wilson peppers his story with references to his forebears. Wilson's war includes darkly comic touches, such as the fastidious robots compulsively clearing away the human remains after every attack. He casts a wide net with his heroes, including a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, a Japanese factory manager and an impromptu militia in Oklahoma's Osage Nation. As pleasantly diverse a lineup as it is, their ham-fisted dialogue leaves them sounding as stiffly mechanical as their attackers.
Given the rise of drone warfare, Wilson has terrific timing in building a page-turner around the perils of technology's advance into our lives, but this isn't a book loaded with deep insight. Even so, who has time for such things when there's so much popcorn to sell?