Book Review: “Robot Uprisings” ed. By Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams

Robot Uprisings ed. By Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams

This collection of stories on the perennial favorite theme attracted an all star array of authors, including Charles Yu, Cory Dotorow, Ian MacDonald, and even John McCarthy himself. Each story is a riff on the motif, “all of a sudden, the robots rose up”. Generally speaking, we haven’t much of a chance.

This story line is really a contemporary variant on the old Frankenstein story, which itself updated various promethean tales known in the earliest recorded stories. The Spartacus story, the bloody slave uprising, enacted over and over. “You think you are so smart and powerful, mortal, master. You dare to emulate the gods! But your creations and slaves will turn on you and destroy you.”

And this is what in in this collection. Over and over.

Honestly, it’s really not that new or interesting.

The plots are generally predictable and silly. Why would robots love us or revere their creators as “gods”? That’s what people do, not what robots will do. How in the world would robots be able to suddenly, with no warning, achieve a simultaneous world-wide sneak attack? Why/how would a swarm intelligence even work, let along spontaneously emerge? Secretly. With no way to turn it off? And the ability to magically reach everywhere instantly.

OK, but it’s got robots! So there should be cool tech here, right?

I wish.

Most of the technology is absurdly backward looking. Even the revered hacker shaman Cory Dotorow projects absurdly 90’s technology into his story set circa 2037. It’s just embarrassing. And many of the other stories are even worse, technologically. (I was particularly underwhelmed by the example “code” in some stories–it’s just silly.) There is a serious failure of imagination here, and that is hard to overlook.

Sure, there is some good writing in this collection. Ian McDonald isn’t capable of writing a bad story. Dotorow and others have some ripping yarns.

They just don’t live up to what I hoped for, tech-wise or story-wise.

  1. Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams, eds. Robot Uprisings. Vantage Books: New York, 2014.


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