Robots vs. Zombies 

There's Something Familiar About This Robopocalypse

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IN 2003, Max "Son of Mel" Brooks wrote The Zombie Survival Guide, a novelty book that offered practical advice on how to survive a zombie attack. A few years later, he put out a grown-up version of the same thing: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Currently being eyed as a feature film by Brad Pitt's production company, it was a surprisingly clever look at an undead apocalypse.

In 2005, Portlander Daniel H. Wilson wrote How to Survive a Robot Uprising, a novelty book that offered practical advice on how to survive a robot attack. Now, a few years later, he's put out a grown-up version of the same thing: Robopocalypse. Currently being eyed as a feature film by Steven Spielberg's studio, it's a disappointingly bland look at a robot Ragnarök.

In World War Z, Brooks used a kazillion varied testimonies to mosaic together a weirdly convincing account of a devastating fictional war; here, Wilson focuses on a few recurring characters, but taps into the exact same faux-historical perspective. The similarities don't stop there: Just like the Viet Cong became "Charlie" to US troops in Vietnam, zombies in World War Z were "Zack"; in Robopocalypse's near future, the dreaded robots—from homicidal smart cars to devious iPhones—are "Rob."

To be fair, a couple of the blockbuster-friendly scenarios Wilson envisions are dynamite: There's a chilling bit with an elderly Japanese man who's unexpectedly attacked by his beloved android companion; another chunk, reminiscent of Neill Blomkamp's phenomenal short film Tetra Vaal, follows the violent panic that ensues when a mechanical soldier in Afghanistan goes rogue. But otherwise, there's little to remember: The book's blurry characters float through exposition-filled proceedings, and while Wilson sneaks in a few smart details (like the fact that, thanks to its wired surveillance network and few guns, London is one of the first cities to be decimated by the villainous, Skynet-like AI known as Archos), his robotic war is never convincing, never frightening, and rarely surprising. Here's hoping Spielberg has a few cool ideas left over from Minority Report and A.I., 'cause as it stands, Robopocalypse is far less interesting, and far less original, than any book about killer robots should be.

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