01 August 2011

Post 410: Robopocalypse

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson. ISBN: 9780385533850.

Holy freaky cover, Batman! This one is way up there with The House of Dead Maids. Both have really creepy eyes, but here I think the biggest creep factor is actually a combination of the eyes and the lips, and the fact that they don't match up. If you look somewhere in the middle of the face (you know, like the nose), you get kind of a sense of this calm peaceful face, but if you look at the eyes it just feels blank, but then you look at the lips and it almost looks like it's smiling, but then you look back at the eyes and the smile isn't there. The mixed signals are telling my primate brain that this thing is up to no good, and not in the cutesy Harry Potter Maurader's Map sense either.

So anyway, the story is your basic frame tale where our narrator-ish finds a black box that is apparently a fraction of the evil robot's brain (Archos). I use the term narrator-ish because Cormac supposedly is transcribing events that he's seeing displayed from this black box, but then we start getting stories told from the first person when it isn't one of Cormac's stories, so I'm kind of confused as to whether he is adding human interpretation to the already interpreted (by Archos) stories, or if Wilson kind of dropped the ball and his editor didn't slap his hands with a ruler. Either way, it's such an easy fix that I wonder why it wasn't, you know, fixed. However, that's not what I want to talk about, I want to talk about the viewpoint(s) of this narrative, and to do so I'm going to start with a quote that appears shortly after the box was found,

"The monsters want to talk, to share what happened. They want me to remember and write it all down." Page 7.

Because I am a history major, and history is typical written, or at least interpreted, by the victors, I found this somewhat fascinating. Here we have an enemy, whom we have defeated, who is insisting that we tell his tale from the dead and we're actually doing it. But not only that, the "monsters" aren't actually telling us their side of the story, but our own. Somehow I doubt this would be as easily done if the enemy hadn't been a robot, but who's to say that something that develops artificial intelligence wouldn't also be able to develop the ability to lie? Isn't part of intelligence the ability to create? Because knowing a whole bunch of stuff is useless if you can't use it in different ways. Sure, I could see a robot having trouble figuring out how to create a painting, but wouldn't it be easy enough to run a social situation through a databank and figure out the benefits of lying? Maybe not; maybe humans are "lucky" that way.

It's interesting though that the computers didn't really record their own history. Archos's eye wasn't on his own machines at all, but merely acted as a recording device. Archos didn't record his own thoughts or "thoughts" on the development of the New War, or even how and why it created certain new machines (including one that hijacks human bodies, which was definitely the coolest and scariest part of the book). Any human would want their record left, even if it was co-opted by the enemy and bastardized in order to further glorify the victor. Humans always have some hope that their culture and their stories will continue somewhere, because if they don't then they are dead and they are dead forever.

This indeed might be the entire reason Archos didn't focus on its own side of the story, because Archos can potentially live forever. The machines didn't need anyone to preserve their history, because there will always be another machine, but then why did they record ours? Is it possible that a being with artificial intelligence would have an ingrained sense of servitude so that it would feel the need to do this for us? And if it did, would we want that kind of history? It's a very flat sort of history, with raw data and a limited point of view. Yes, it's more accurate, but accurate isn't human.

My review-lette is on Goodreads. A fairly balanced and more extensive review can be found over at Grasping for the Wind.
LibsNote: Library copy, because other people's taxes paying for my reading habit is awesome. Dammit I really wish I had a job.

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