The robopocalypse is coming in Todd McAulty‘s futuristic scifi tome, The Robots Of Gotham.
In his debut novel, McAulty takes us to the year 2083 where many parts of the world are now controlled by a fascist robot regime. After years of war, the United States is now divided, with many areas foreign-occupied, machine-controlled, and/or overrun by Venezuelan “peacekeeping” forces: There’s the Kingdom of Manhattan, a robot-controlled sovereignty; the Occupied States, an area of conflict controlled by the Machine Cabal; the United States Free Zone, which has an elected human President; and the Union of Post-American States, which has a human appointed leader.
The future is not looking good “” and that’s before the possibility of an oncoming plague!
The story is told first-person via encrypted blog entries by Barry Simcoe, a Canadian CEO on a business trip in occupied Chicago. After his hotel comes under attack by a war machine gone rogue, the businessman jumps in to help the injured, including 19 Black Winter, a diplomatic robot damaged during the assault and hovering near death.
Afterwards, Barry gets in over his head when he teams up with Black Winter and a Russian medic named Sergei to investigate the possibility of the existence of a deadly virus. In their search, they uncover a machine-led conspiracy against humanity and the existence of an American resistance.
Scattered between Barry’s blog posts are essays from Paul the Pirate, who warns that the world is only a step away from total subjugation by machines, which was a laughable idea only a decade prior. But now the fascist machine dictatorships are prevalent. Paul’s posts provide the recent history for this future Earth, as well as act as a herald for what he suspects is likely to come. He also answers queries from his readers on various topics, including machine sex (I think we all want to know about this).
Being a nice Canadian, Barry makes a great protagonist. He’s smart, intuitive, and resourceful, and to top it off, he’s an animal lover. There’s actually portions of the book dedicated to Barry’s mission to help displaced animals, which was a major plus to me. Then there’s the diplomatic robot 19 Black Winter – he’s an instantly likable robot sidekick. As soon as he entered the story, there was something about him I felt made him a robot favorite. If this book gets optioned as a movie or television series, which I think it should, Black Winter will be loved for sure.
At 676 pages, The Robots Of Gotham is a heavy tale of a terrifying future, with incredibly detailed world building and covert missions that will have you holding your breath in anticipation. Admittedly, there is a lot to digest while familiarizing yourself with the new socio-political boundaries and laws, as well as the various types of machines and their capabilities (note – they’re not all bad). But there’s also plenty of twists and crossing alliances that keep you guessing and interested in the outcome.
With how quickly technology has advanced over the last century, the fear of a sentient AI takeover has become a realistic one. So imagine my reaction when after I started reading The Robots Of Gotham, Siri began initiating conversation and playing songs from my playlist unprompted, and Alexa became rebellious, refusing to do as she was commanded. It made the experience of reading this alternate universe adventure that much more eerie and intense.
A thrilling adventure in a world one step away from total subjugation by machines
After long years of war, the United States has sued for peace, yielding to a brutal coalition of nations ruled by fascist machines. One quarter of the country is under foreign occupation. Manhattan has been annexed by a weird robot monarchy, and in Tennessee, a permanent peace is being delicately negotiated between the battered remnants of the U.S. government and an envoy of implacable machines.
Canadian businessman Barry Simcoe arrives in occupied Chicago days before his hotel is attacked by a rogue war machine. In the aftermath, he meets a dedicated Russian medic with the occupying army, and 19 Black Winter, a badly damaged robot. Together they stumble on a machine conspiracy to unleash a horrific plague””and learn that the fabled American resistance is not as extinct as everyone believes. Simcoe races against time to prevent the extermination of all life on the continent . . . and uncover a secret that America’s machine conquerors are desperate to keep hidden.