Audiobook Review: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

12 06 2011

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Read by Mike Chamberlain

Random House Audio

Genre: Robot Apocalypose

Quick Thoughts: While a fast, fun listen, I was unable to truly connect with the characters or situation on any significant level, partly due to Mike Chamberlains disjointed narration.

Grade: B-

The Apocalyptic novel has seen lots of progressions. Pre-WW2, the majority of the “end of the world” scenarios were out of the hands of man, there were plagues, like Shelley’s Last Man and and Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, and there were astronomical catastrophes like Well’s In the Days of the Comet and Wyle’s When Worlds Collide. Even outside forces bring about the end such as HG Well’s alien menace in War of the Worlds, and the bizarre North Pole thingamajig that killed off the planet in MR Shiel’s The Purple Clouds. Yet, as we enter the nuclear age, more and more often it’s man’s creations or neglect that end up killing us, the plagues are man-made, the ecological disasters brought on by Global Warming, and the robots begin to rise. As technology increases and the world grows smaller, it seems more and more likely that we are all going to die by our own creations. Well, until we do, we can at least get some good books and movies out of the deal. Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson is the latest apocalyptic tale where man’s creations, here being artificial intelligence and robotics, become our greatest enemies. It is told in a series of first person and third person accounts of heroic survivors of Zero Hour, the day of the initial coordinated robot attack, who work to find a way to defeat an Artificial Intelligence called Arcos who is bent on the systematic slaughter of the majority of mankind.

The story of Robopocalypse centers on one man, Cormack Wallace, as he relates important stories of key figures in the battle to stop the robots. Because of this style of storytelling the narrative jumps around a lot, telling key stories about key moments, without a lot of set up and staging. In this way, the book is reminiscent of Max Brook’s World War Z. The major difference is that Wilson’s tale follows a select group of reoccurring characters as pivotal players in the war. While the action is crisp, and the increasing evolution of the machines is fascinating, do not expect a detailed character drama. The characters exist solely for what they can contribute to the fight, and when there contribution is complete they disappear with a solemn statement that they were never heard from again. The story progression is fast, and every scene in the book is significant, yet it was hard to become emotionally attached to the situation and characters. Even the motivations of the AI were hard to understand. Science fiction and Apocalyptic fans will embrace this novel and have fun with it, I know I did. I just have trouble seeing Robopocalypse having the crossover appeal of World War Z, or other breakout science fiction hits.

I think some of my lack of connection with the story may have come from the lackluster performance of the narrator, Mike Chamberlain. Chamberlain has an excellent narrative voice, it’s strong and clear, yet, just reading a tale like this is not enough. A good audiobook narrator makes many choices during a reading, and I question many of the ones made by Chamberlain. His reading of the first person account of a congresswoman trying to save her children came off quite disjointed and confusing when the narrator created a female voice for her dialogue but continued with his male narrative voice reading the other parts of the account. At other points in the book he maintains the chosen voice of a character thought the entire first person account. Another example of his discontinuity was when he gave sort of a cockney accent to a British hacker, yet read the tale of the Japanese robotic mechanic as Middle American, with no real attempts at creating a Japanese character voice. Even the childlike voice of the AI, which should have come off creepy, instead just sounded bratty. Perhaps, this novel would have been greatly improved by an additional narrator who could fill out Chamberlain’s weaknesses. Sadly, Chamberlain’s disjointed performance and bad narrative choices made what could have been an excellent audiobook listening experience into merely a fun, but forgettable listen.

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