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Onyx reviews: Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson

Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 06/08/2014

Robogenesis, the sequel to Roboapocalypse, has the feel of the middle book of a trilogy. At the end of the previous book, Archos R-14, the sentient computer that launched a mechanized and robotic army at humanity, was destroyed, which seemed to spell the end of the New War. Humanity was decimated, and civilization was left a smoldering ruin, but at least the threat of being totally eradicated by a devastating mechanized force seemed to be at an end.

Not so. In its dying moments, Archos emitted a pulse that launched an entirely new arsenal of sentient electronics determined to expunge everything alive, as if people were some kind of computer virus that needed to be wiped from the computer of earth. And one of R-14's predecessors has ascended to take control.

The best thing about Robogenesis is the author's inventiveness with respect to the variety of robotic entities he creates. Spider-like monsters reminiscent of the AT-AT walkers from Star Wars that are used to manage and punish enslaved humans, for example, or tiny quasi-sentient land mines and explosive locusts. He even manages to put a new spin on the zombie craze with dead soldiers who are reanimated by robotic parasites that interface with their brains. And, perhaps, a nod to Godzilla with the rise of an awesome creative/destructive force from deep in the ocean off the coast of Japan.

The worst thing is that Wilson repeats his tendency from the first book to pre-summarize each chapter from the perspective of the evil entity, dubbed Arayt Shah, thereby robbing the book of much of its tension. Readers already have a good idea how a particular encounter or battle will turn out based on this information. The book would have been better served without these snippets, for they contribute nothing and detract considerably.

The storyline is chaotic, jumping around the world and leaping forward and back in time. Characterization takes the back seat, for the most part, with plot driving the novel, although this plot is a somewhat erratic driver. It's not completely clear what artificial intelligence is doing what, and whether or not there's an internal war being waged between computer overlords. Are the modified humans being used against other survivors, or are they pawns (or allies) in this silicon-based war? All of the disorganized and confusing activity of the book's first half begins to dovetail into a looming confrontation over a computer site located beneath the mountains. 

Many of the characters from Roboapocalypse return, though in a few cases they are not the same as they were at the end of the previous battle. Survivors regard some of them as heroes but others, mainly those who have been biomechanically altered, no matter how slightly, are deemed foes and are to be destroyed. Wilson makes a light-handed allusion to the plight of freed slaves in the hostility faced by the freeborn computers, and presents a superficial discourse on the blurring of the lines between man and machine.

This is a bleak and sometimes plodding sequel to a book that was sufficient in itself, one that did not necessarily call for a second act. The first book, as pared down and cinematic as it was, had the benefit of some original scenes featuring ordinary objects coming to life and turning against humanity. The sequel has none of that, which makes the story seem a little stale.

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