Sunday, August 21, 2011

Stross rules, Robopocalypse falters

Rule 34: Generally accepted internet rule that states that pornography or sexually related material exists for any conceivable subject. (Urban Dictionary)

Singularity: Technological singularity refers to the hypothetical future emergence of greater-than human intelligence through technological means. (Wikipedia) 

Book 85: Rule 34 by Charles Stross

Book 86: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

There's a commonality between these two novels that I'll let the reader self-identify.

Rule 34 is written by Charles Stross, a veteran science fiction writer, and Robopocalypse is by Daniel H. Wilson, who has written a handful of books, including How to Build a Robot Army and How to Survive a Robot Uprising. (Whether those previous titles are fiction or non-fiction, I don't know.)

The title, Rule 34, is a bit of misdirection from Charlie. His protagonist, Edinburgh Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh, heads a crime unit known as the Rule 34 Squad.  But, despite the title and Liz's nominal police responsibilities, this isn't about Internet porn.  

Instead, Liz is caught up in a murder investigation. Actually, she's caught up investigating multiple homicides. Several of the Edinburgh underworld are dying in bizarre fashion -- killed by seemingly harmless household appliances. 

Later, Liz and her colleagues learn that the murders aren't confined to Edinburgh. Someone is killing off a passel of bad guys in innovative ways.  

I could sum up Rule 34 as standard Stross fare, but if you haven't read him you wouldn't know that means an edgy, inventive thriller with a jaundiced views of how the future looks from here.  It's probable enough to be disturbing, improbable enough to be deliciously disturbing.  

There have been some new entries recently -- notably authors Mieville and Bacigalupi -- but Stross is still the reigning king of cool among today's crop of science fiction writers.

Straining the bounds of probability is Wilson's Robopocalypse. The comparisons to Michael Crichton on the inside flap of the dust jacket are an indication of what the reader can expect.  No, in this case, Wilson's book doesn't read like a chubby movie script, but it is a breezy little read that wants so badly to be a bestseller.

A full-fledged A.I. (artificial intelligence) is loose in the world and it's pissed.  It's been "killed" something like 14 times before and determined that that won't happen again. It turns its fury on humanity. Humanity wins. That's not a spoiler. Wilson furnishes the outcome in the novel's first sentence.

That does let some of the suspension out of Robopocalypse.  What Wilson does, in lieu of suspense, is give us some nasty "isolated incidents" followed up zero hour, when the machines turn against mankind, followed by man's steps to survive in various locations from a major city to an Indian reservation in Oklahoma. And, finally, all out war.

We win -- the dinosaurs are herded back in their cage. Well, maybe we win. There's just a suggestion the A.I. may have survived. (Hell, it's more of an outright promise that a sequel is coming. The truth is the villain dies in these books about as often as one of Marvel's costumed heroes.)

After finishing Robopocalypse, my first thought was: "Well, it wasn't as bad as I expected." It's a quick little read. Nicely paced. But I would have liked one idea. Just one.  My thoughts then went to Robert Sawyer's provocative WWW trilogy (Wake, Watch and Wonder), which dares to contemplate a benign singularity.

Conclusion: Read Rule 34. Stross is good. Very good.   And if you still have an urge to read about A.I.s, turn to Robert Sawyer's fine trilogy.  Now that's an idea.

No comments:

Post a Comment