September 22, 2018

Review: The Robots of Gotham

The Robots of Gotham The Robots of Gotham by Todd McAulty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book nearly sight unseen. The editor is John Joseph Adams, who I have found usually has impeccable taste. Also, the cover art is intriguing and cool. That said, I'm glad I did--this is a fantastic, smart science fiction thriller, and it's on my list of the best books of 2018.

This book takes place in 2083, when artificial intelligence is in full bloom, and the robot population is expanding so rapidly it is on track to surpass the human population. Many countries are now governed (or ruled) by robots. (There is a neat chart on the very first page, the "2083 Sovereignty Matrix," which lists many countries of the world and how they are ruled, whether by Machine Cabals, Elected/Appointed/Hereditary human rulers, or Elected/Hereditary machine government. It's a concise piece of setting and worldbuilding that lets us know right away what we're getting into.) Our protagonist is Barry Simcoe, a blogger/engineer/entrepreneur who, because of his desire to impress a woman and out of his own sense of compassion, gets dragged into a world-changing conspiracy.

The plotting, characterization and worldbuilding in this book is just stellar. The author is a software engineer, so needless to say the robot ecosystem/evolution is well thought out. There are periodic chapters from a robot blogger, "Paul the Pirate," whom Barry reads, that provide crucial background information without dragging down the story. This is not a Terminator/Skynet situation--far from it; the robots are just as individualized as the humans, with their own internal struggles and factions. The book is 675 pages, but doesn't feel like it due to its excellent pacing. I particularly appreciated the fact that the characters aren't stupid or do dumb things because The Plot Demands It. They share information and think and plan as their situation gets more precarious, and the final showdown is a nail-biting confrontation where the characters' loyalty and friendship come through.

This story is pretty self contained, but the world is so fascinating I would love to see the author return to it again, whether with these characters or others. Highly, highly recommended.

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