Title: The Robots Of Gotham | Author: Todd McAulty | Publisher / Publisher: John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | Publication Date: 19 Jun 2018

A stunningly entertaining and self-assured debut

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.

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THE PREMISE

With most of the rest of the world under machine rule, America has been occupied by machines and machine-ruled human armies. With humanity in real danger of being made obsolete by AI, a Canadian businessman stumbles through one misadventure after another, the danger escalating each time until he unearths a conspiracy to accelerate the end of mankind.

YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW MACHINES CONQUERED THE GODDAMNED WORLD?

I had some reservations about reviewing The Robots Of Gotham. On the one hand, John Joseph Adams, who bought us the amazing apocalypse triptych anthologies The End Is Nigh,The End Is Now,and The End Has Come,has a keen sense of great story-telling. On the other hand, I couldn’t quite square this book as being a genuine apocalypse novel even given that most countries are ruled by machines at the book’s opening.
Still, the premise was intriguing. Plus, there are robots in it.


The Robots Of Gotham opens with a bang, introducing our hero in the middle of his hotel being evacuated, before he’s shot at and almost blown up. Shortly thereafter he meets 19 Black Winter a robot with the Manhattan consulate, and a Russian medic name Sergei, who gets the absolute best lines in the story. Then, when he decides to try to impress a woman, he unwittingly sets in motion a chain of events that lead to the discovery of a deadly contagion, a powerful machine conspiracy, an enigmatic resistance, and a mysterious robot colony hiding underground. The action is breathtaking (even more so considering the main character doesn’t carry a gun), the suspense is pulse-pounding, and the comic relief light enough that when the occasional laugh-out-loud moment comes it doesn’t ruin the experience.


The world of The Robots Of Gotham is well-realised and believable, and the occasional interludes that give us greater insight into our machine overlords add a depth and a richness to the storyline. From AI babies to robot sex (admit it, you were curious) and down to the differing kinds of robot intelligence, you get to learn just enough to keep the storyline going but never really enough to answer all your questions – particularly the new questions that pop up after one of these asides. It’s a measure of how much the story immerses you in this world that those questions largely become unimportant when compared with the self-assured writing that almost turns the pages for you.


I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Robots Of Gotham. It’s not balls-out, gung-ho action. It’s smarter than that and much more entertaining. The politics are nuanced and the robots aren’t some kind of hive mind – they’re all individuals and not (always) out to enslave or kill all humans. In fact, whether good or evil, the robots are just cool. A lot of the little touches peppered here and there in the narrative lend weight to the overall vision of a civilisation in its days of decline while doing its best to pretend it isn’t happening. The blog entry adverts never failed to make me smile (another of those little touches), and some of the quirkier characters are more endearing that you might expect. Not everything gets tied up neatly though, and the last few chapters have a rushed feel to them. I’m hoping that means there’s going to be a sequel. There just has to be.

RECOMMENDED BY CAPTAIN DOOMSDAY

A resourceful and altogether different kind of action hero that rarely picks up a gun and actively avoids hurting others, a lot of rich and unpredictable character moments, giant robots, deadly robots, GODKiller robots, robots that talk to dolphins (robots robots everywhere! Ahem. Sorry) and some awesome technological concepts like baby AI and AI that’s so sophisticated they are completely independent of any nation, all combine to make this a must-read work. Although it’s not actively set after a classical apocalypse, this book sets the groundwork for a very interesting one. Do yourself a favour and go read this book.

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