Daniel H. Wilson and Pop Sci-fi

A few weeks ago I started walking to and from work on non-rainy days, foregoing any public transportation.

It takes thirty to forty minutes, so to fill the time I've started listening to audio books again. I used to do that quite a lot in law school, when I commuted the hour between Indianapolis and Bloomington.

robopocalypseThe last book I finished was Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson. I was a little hesitant to try it out, because come on, "Robopocalypse"?

Anyway, on the whole I enjoyed the book, and it definitely made me look forward to my walks. It was only afterward that I found out it was a fairly popular read, an NYT bestseller, and even a potential Spielberg movie.

Wilson isn't a hard sci-fi writer, or even a "soft" space opera type novelist. The genre he firmly slots into is "pop sci fi." Definitely a Michael Crichton-esque sort of style. I call it pop because it's much more accessible to the lay reader. It's what most movies and news stories and general science have prepared the non-sci-fi reader for.

Part of that definition means that it doesn't really take any imaginative technological leaps. Not that the "sci-fi" elements of the book aren't cool or well thought out (well, sometimes, at least), it's just that they're not pushing any boundaries of the imagination (except for maybe the boundaries of plausibility). Most of the sci-fi tropes in the book are old hat.

Moreover, some of the plot really tested my ability to suspend my disbelief.

Despite all that, I had fun.

ampedAnd since I did have fun, I checked out Amped from the library, another book by Wilson.

It only solidified by estimation of Wilson's style. Fun, poppy sci-fi that requires you to actively suppress your objections to its plot and technology problems.

Amped deals with a societal crisis after a backlash against people whose intellectual and physical abilities are "amplified" by neural implants. They started to rise to prominence, and it was threatening to "normal" humans.

Again, how civilization reacts to an upgraded homo sapiens is far from a new idea. See Greg Bear's Darwin's Radio, or Nancy Kress's Beggars in Spain. Wilson throws a little Robopocalypse/World War Z style "contemporary, corroboratory evidence" in the form of news stories and court decisions that detail how the government reacts legally to the situation.

That was a little more novel, I think, in that he made a fairly decent effort to build the sequence of legal events that slowly undermined the rights and positions of the "amped."

Otherwise most of the story focuses on the main character, who goes from zero to Rambo thanks to his super-special unique implant.

So, fun, might make a cool movie, but it's not moving sci-fi anywhere.

Andrei Marks

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