Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Summer of Reading #5: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

The Summer of Reading Series is one part commentary and one part analysis. Each post includes both a review of a book that I've recently read and, perhaps more importantly, the positive and negative aspects of the writing and the story within. The goal of this series is to learn lessons that will help make myself, and anyone reading this, a better writer and storyteller! Enjoy...

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Robopocalypse is a thrilling and apocalyptic disaster-movie-style adventure that preys on a primal fear: our slaves (machines) turning against their masters (humankind). The author uses the setting of a robot uprising to probe many thought-provoking questions: What does it mean to be human? What really separates man from machine?

In an interesting twist that's rarely used in novels, the author tells the story of the Robot War via a series of "recordings" and memoirs that have been pieced together by the story's main protagonist. These pieces of the puzzle feature a wide array of narrative styles, from 3rd-person descriptive to both 1st-person present and 1st-person reflective. There is also a limited use of descriptions and exposition, as the narrative aims to convey the story through action and events.

In another interesting twist, the author chooses to tell the story through a wide variety of characters (each with their own perspectives on the war) and over a long period of time, with many gaps in between. The story is unabashedly presented as being edited and curated by the protagonist, who has kept only the most relevant episodes of the story.

Key Positives:
+ The use of the 1st-person perspective throughout is visceral - making the reader feel like they are right there during each scene, experiencing the event along with the narrator
+ The pacing of the novel is quick, and as the "Hero Archive" is curated, only the key events and stories are told
+ The author does a fantastic job of creating and maintaining a sense of tension, which is weaved throughout every page - even the ending!

Key Negatives:
- 1st-person diary-style narratives (like in the timeless Dracula by Bram Stoker) work best with a core group of characters experiencing the same event - with the multiple, disconnected scenes and characters, the story of Robopocalypse feels fragmented
- The story features too many characters, many of whom disappear as quickly as they appear, which doesn't allow the reader to form any sort of meaningful connections. One's favourite characters may only appear in a few scenes before they are quickly forgotten (or worse - get killed!)
- Although told via multiple characters (and 1st-person narrators), their voices and descriptions seem much too similar - they're not unique enough!

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