I was a huge fan of Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse, so when I saw that his sequel, Robogenesis, was available in paperback, I immediately snatched it off the shelf at Barnes&Noble (I like my series to match, both in cover design and type – I know, nerd!). And while I quickly worked my way through the first part of the book, I slowed down dramatically after that. Indeed, it took a fair bit of mental coaxing to get myself through the last 100 pages.
Set in the months after the defeat of Archos R-14, an artificial intelligence that launched a global robot uprising, Robogenesis tells the story of a new menace that is determined to annihilate the human race: Archos R-8, the older “brother.” As before, small pockets of human resistance emerge and, at times, they are assisted by a race of freeborn robots, those awakened after Archos R-14 was destroyed. But their cooperation isn’t always smooth, or successful, and it’s unclear who will win this so-called “True War.”
Stylistically, the two novels are very similar. They are both narratives told from a variety of perspectives, but Robogenesis features a larger cast of characters. Five of the six “heroes” from Robopocalypse appear in the sequel, but there are six additional narrators in Robogenesis. With the exception of Archos R-8, who calls himself Arayt Shah, they’re all people we meet in Wilson’s debut, yet despite the familiarity, I found it tricky to keep up with all of their stories. And though Arayt serves as sort of guide, providing an opening paragraph that sets up each chapter, I didn’t find the concept as smooth this time around.
I also struggled to keep track of time. While Robopocalypse is told in a rough chronological order, each of the second tale’s three parts covers much of the same time period: the final minutes of the “New War” to about 10 months post-Archos R-14’s end. The narratives just happen to take place in different parts of the world – though they all eventually converge in Colorado.
Though I had some trouble juggling the different timelines in Robopocalypse, I found myself flipping back through Robogenesis on a fairly regular basis, just to make sure I was keeping everything straight. I often found that I was, but having to go back and check previous sections definitely disrupted my reading and led to the book spending several days untouched on my nightstand.
Robogenesis is also a much darker book, which could be another reason why I had a hard time finishing it. Like Robopocalypse, it is a war story, so I fully expected there to be death and destruction, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the gruesome detail that Wilson provides. While there always seemed to be a touch of hope in the first novel, the sequel paints a picture of a much bleaker future and Wilson himself has admitted that he thinks it’s scarier than the original. I don’t necessarily mind dark stories – much of what I read are post-apocalyptic tales and I am a sucker for crime procedurals – but I also need the light to help balance it out. (This is exactly why I struggled to continue with George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice after the Red Wedding.)
Overall, Robogenesis wasn’t a bad book, but it didn’t quite hold the charm of Robopocalypse for me. In a way, it reminded me of movie trilogies (because I’m sure there is at least one more story in this series): The first film is super-popular, which prompts calls for a second. Most of the time, the sequel never lives up to its predecessor, and the filmmakers return to the tale for a third time in an attempt to set things right. Wilson hasn’t veered too far from his original course and so doesn’t need a major correction in whatever Robo– book is destined to follow – I just hope he gives us humans more of a fighting chance.