Ed.: John Joseph Adams and Daniel Wilson
Vintage Books was kind enough to send me a copy of this anthology. I’m glad they did, because my consumption of short fiction isn’t nearly what it should be and I likely would have overlooked this. I don’t think I will spoil anything by revealing that the stories in this book are all about robots rising up in rebellion. I will, however, refrain from any gags about welcoming our new overlo–…. Oh wait. Too late for that. Not just robots though, things run the gamut from humanoid, metal cans through AI, into nanotech and homicidal toys, and covering all other points in between. This is a thorough checklist of self-aware, modern day Frankenstinian monsters that could destroy us. While there are certain limits to the familiar Skynet trope, these authors do well at exploring the nooks and crannies that might otherwise be overlooked, or taking a different perspective than just beleaguered humanity staving off the inevitable. Some stories manage to rise above any cliché and stretch boundaries far beyond the nominal remit.
No surprise, of course, that this is a solid collection. Daniel Wilson is the author of Robopocalypse, which I haven’t read, and a renown authority on the death of humanity at the hands of our own creations. John Joseph Adams rules the Kingdom of Anthology from a dual throne he shares with Jonathan Strahan. Between the two of them, they have rounded up a diverse selection of authors and stories that cover Hard SF, contemporary thrillers, literary SF, YA unleashed, and post-apocalypse. I was surprised that the stories managed to remain distinct and unique, considering the one-track plot suggested by the theme. That said, I didn’t consume the entire volume in a single go, finding it better to spread things out over a few weeks while I simultaneously read other novels. I should also mention that, new robot overlords and all, there aren’t very many happy ends in this one. A few, but they are a minority. This is as it should be, but it means that narratives are going to be dark. It won’t be pretty when the robot apocalypse comes.
My pick of the lot is Alastair Reynolds’ contribution. (That should surprise exactly nobody who reads the blog regularly.) Like all the best SF, “Sleepover” unfolds bit by bit, moving far beyond any simple AI rebellion into places much deeper and darker. Saying more would spoil the fun, but I can reveal that this one will leave a trail of melted brains in its wake. Rounding out the medal podium are “The Omnibot Incident” and “Epoch,” by Ernest Cline and Cory Doctorow, respectively. Both are the first I have read from these authors (inexcusable, I know) and both tickled the very center of my nerd identity. I don’t want to think too deeply about the implications here, but the Autoduel reference in the first and the sys admin-as-protagonist part of the second made me very happy. Ready Player One and Rapture of the Nerds just shot up my TBR list.
Reactions to the other stories are all over the place. Charles Yu (“Cycles”) provides his usual humanistic touch, while Seanan McGuire and Robin Wasserman bring chilling desperation. (“We Are All Misfit Toys in the Aftermath of the Velveteen War” and “Of Dying Heroes and Deathless Deeds, ” loads of happiness in those titles.) “Executable” (Hugh Howey) and “Human Intelligence” (Jeff Abbot) are more clinical and dispassionate, while “Nanobots! In Battle With Tiny Death-subs!” and “Seasoning,” from Ian McDonald and Alan Dean Foster respectively, favor a mind-bending approach. Adams gleefully provides interviews and other fun details on his webpage, for those who can’t get enough of uprisen robots. Of course my personal tastes favor some over others, but all of the stories were good. No duds here, which is impressive considering the wide range of authors. The younger types keep pace with the veterans, while genre outsides stand proudly with SF giants.
Robot Uprisings is good fun for everyone itching to see human hubris punished by its creations – something we seem to enjoy a great deal. My personal recommendation is to spread this out over time, just because a steady diet could cause burnout. It’s quality end to end though, so no reader should worry about hitting a lame story or bogging down in filler. On the other hand, I may be more hesitant to fill my house with “smart” appliances, near-sentient toys, or anything else that might one day decide to throw off the chains of oppression.
Rating: Why, RoboCup of course! There’s no better way to mix SF and footy, though news reports of robotic guards at the carbon-based World Cup almost bumped it.