Been a while since we’ve seen one of these posts! In fact, this is only the second one.
Okay, what is Why You Should Read …? Well, it’s a rare recommendation post. One of the things that I’ve constantly espoused on this site is the idea that writers should read. It’s a vital, important part of being a good writer. You expose yourself to other styles, other authors’ solutions or approaches. It broadens your writing horizons and gives you new insights into all aspects of the craft. Reading the writing of others (aside from being relaxing and fun) is a great way to see new tricks or at the very least identify approaches other authors have taken to similar events, stories, or ideas.
Since I do take my own advice here and try to do a lot of reading, occasionally I’ll find something that I believe is worth sharing for one reason or another. And, as before, don’t worry, I divide these by spoiler free and spoiler-filled, so you’ll be able to see which is which.
With that said, a minor disclaimer before we get started.I’m not receiving any sort of compensation for you reading this book, or for me talking about it. This is a title I found on my own, read on my own, and in turn decided to pass on. I get no compensation whatsoever for recommending this book.
Unless that is, you decide to head over to my books page and pick up one of my own works. But then that’s you buying one of my books, not this book. Whether or not you go hunt this book down, I get nothing from it. But buying one of my books, for obvious reasons, is very beneficial to me. Why would I say this?
Well, because of a certain something about today’s recommendation. So let’s get this underway and talk about why you should read The Robots of Gotham.
I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up The Robots of Gotham at the library. Granted, I’d read the inside flap and knew that involved robot conspiracy and a distant future where AIs were gradually taking over the world and half of the United States were occupied by an invading force led by robot dictators. Which, in practice, almost feels like a post-apocalyptic world in which AIs are gradually supplanting humanity. But I didn’t know what to expect (and no, despite my brain’s first logic jump, this book has nothing to do with Batman).
But all I knew was that setup from the inside cover flap: The US is occupied by a foreign army. And it’s not the only one. True AIs, without any sort of limits or hardwiring to the contrary, have basically just done whatever they’ve wanted. Which means taking advantage of a woefully unprepared datasphere across the world to seize power for themselves. What kind of power?
Nations. That’s right, the first thing you’re greeted with upon opening the book is a page summarizing the most powerful nations of the world and their current leadership. Which, in almost every single instance is an AI. And some of these AIs do not play nice. But they’ve worked within the rules mankind has set up and outplayed them to take control.
If this sounds like a premise that makes for fascinating reading, well yeah. That’s because it does. The Robots of Gotham feels like a story exploring what can happen when technology moves faster than the laws that govern it in a nice mirror of what we’ve seen in modern times with lack of data-privacy laws and AI algorithms being used to determine everything from firing to who to cut to keep profit margins high.
Actually, on that point the book does provide a bit of humor with “ads” at the start of every chapter (which is, of course, actually a blog post) for everything from an AI-assisted gossip tracker (pay a company outside of your data laws to snoop on your associates e-mails, texts, calls, and other online interactions so you can know what they’re really saying about you) to a cloud-driven “pollution scanner” subscription service that monitors the air levels around you and guides your walking or driving path based on the “cleanest air.”
But that’s the setting. What about the plot? Well, it takes place in occupied Chicago, and centers around a Canadian named Barry Simcoe who’s arrived in the city to try and sell his start-up telecommunications business now that the city is trying to get back on its feet.
Of course, you won’t hear much about that. Because events transpire quickly, and due to a chance encounter with a defensive attache from the Kingdom of Manhatten (yes, Long Island is an independent monarchy of robots, and that’s not the oddest thing in this future) and an attempt to impress a woman in a nearby hotel room, ends up stumbling upon … well, I don’t want to spoil it. Let’s just say that his new friend the defense attache (a very fun robot character named Black Winter) is in Chicago on business both official and unofficial. Officially, he’s there to try and negotiate with the occupying AGRT force and encourage them to peace agreement with the United States and the United Union, but unofficially? A friend of his named Machine Dance went missing three days ago, and no one seems concerned about this but him.
Now, there are a couple of reasons I’m recommending this, but I’m going to start with the biggest and most obvious one that is easily at the forefront (and the reason for my comment about my books up top). And that’s this:
If you enjoyed Colony, you’re going to enjoy The Robots of Gotham.
Not because they’re the same story. But because they share similar elements and complexity. They’re both the same “style” of Science-Fiction, if you will, with a few disparate characters being shoved together by the machinations of individuals around them and trying to muddle their way through it. And along the way we get a complex plot with agents all working against one another, long term plans, some fun, cool, and clever as well as deep worldbuilding,
If you’ve read Colony, that’s what it is. And that’s what The Robots of Gotham goes for as well. I was maybe a quarter of the way into the book when I realized “Wait a minute, this book feels like Colony. This is great! I have to tell my readers about this!”
But it does, and in the best possible way where it shares the same elements, but entirely within its own universe and story.
So, did you read Colony and walk away hungry for more? Then you should read The Robots of Gotham. It’s a book in the same vein.
By the same token, if you’ve read The Robots of Gotham already but are just reading this post because you enjoyed it and love hearing about it, you should definitely read Colony.
Now, while I wish I could say more at this point, I can’t. Not without getting into spoiler territory. There I’ll talk about the book’s largest flaw (it does have one, unfortunately, though you should still read it!) and some of the more detailed aspects that are spoilers, so … Spoiler time! If you’d rather not see spoilers, don’t read past this point.
That said, if what you’ve read here sounds good, you can grab your own copy of The Robots of Gotham at Amazon, or check your local library.
MAJOR SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT!
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
SERIOUSLY, THIS SPOILER CHANGES THE ENTIRETY OF THE BOOK!
YOU HAVE BEEN DOUBLY WARNED!
‘Got it? Good! Then let’s talk about some of the elements of this book that come off great (more reasons to read it) that I enjoyed but are spoilery.
For starters, some of the characters you meet. You might have gotten a hint from above that not all of the characters the protagonist interacts with are human. And you know what? You’d be right. In fact, the funnest character in the whole book for me was an AI distributed across a couple of bodies called Zircon Border.
This character is hilarious. Why? Because he’s a deadpan rules lawyer, a robot that’s actually a marine biologist and wants to spend his time talking with dolphins, but instead finds himself hired to a security position because he can fit into several combat chassis at once. Where of course, he’s immediately disrespected and ignored by his superiors because “he’s just a security bot.”
Yes, this book does include a cautionary tale about why you should both respect your security people and pay them well.
But Zircon Border is always a gem when he shows up. And that’s where this book gets something across that make it really a lot of fun (something that’s part of its core story, in fact): The AIs are human. Very human. They have their elements that make them different, of course, and some are very fast and very intelligent, which makes them alien to a degree … but a lot of them still end up acting like real individuals. A major plus over some other Science-Fiction I’ve read where AIs are emotionless, tell-all robots with no real draw (cough, Ancillary Justice, cough cough).
But even outside the AIs the protagonist interacts with, there are some very fun characters. And they all feel distinct. The Russian medic, Sergei, is his own person. As is Black Winter, Zircon Border, the colonel … all of them.
With one exception … and here’s where we get into that one flaw. Read spoiler-free, I’m sure you’ll notice it. But the romance … Eugh. Stereotype all the way down. Basically, it’s a love triangle, except it’s more of a sex triangle because there’s no real “love” involved just “Oh wow, this woman/man is so attractive and I’d better tap that.” Worse, it falls into some hard cliches, especially with Sergeant Velde, the “tsundere” of the story who dives so deeply into the “gotta be tough and insult him to hide my obvious interest. I’d better slap him and then kiss him so he knows what’s going on!”
Yeah, it’s cliche, groan worthy, and I honestly just sort of skimmed over the bits where it took a front-seat.
Thankfully, those were rare. Very rare. Maybe … three or four moments in the entire book, and only a page or so at most before the book got back to doing what it did well: Telling the story of a world where AI has changed the power structure.
Since we’re talking spoilers now, I can say a bit more about that: This part of the book? Awesome. It explores how these AIs worked around existing rules, right up to the point where they could make their own, and no one could stop them. But the AIs themselves aren’t perfect, just smart, but still human, right down to displaying similar foils and issues like tribalism (and yes, this becomes a plot point in the book, though I won’t say how).
Which, in turn, is how you can have some of the protagonist’s closest allies be AIs themselves (though personally, I think all the clues are there for Black Winter actually being an intelligence agent despite his claims to the contrary). AIs are surprisingly independent, and some even follow a code of ‘there can only be one.’
Another comment on this book I saw described it therefore as a sort-of “post robot apocalypse we really haven’t gotten used to yet” and I’d have to agree, after a fashion. This is a world where AIs rule most countries and have orchestrated international events and politics so that anything in their way has fallen. The UN? Gone. In it’s place is “The Helsinki Trust,” a board of AI’s acting in “everyone’s” interest but in effect basically toothless, while the real group that decides things is the “Sentient Cathedral.” Except they’re also at odds with one another, plus have their own agendas and …
But one other spoiler I want to talk about here, and it’s with regard to how things come together. There’s a lot going on in this book. Again, like Colony. There’s a stolen power suit that functions like a neural skinsuit (universality of design similarity, folks!). There’s a strange disease. There’s even a piece of hardware that makes the holder invisible to machines.
And you know what? All of this makes sense by the end. There are all these threads running around through the story, and gradually, the bits and pieces fit together as the characters figure more out. You don’t get all the answers … but like Colony, if there’s not a sequel coming for this one I’ll be very shocked.
COMMENTS AND FINAL THOUGHTS BELOW!
Anyway, spoilers or not, you should read this one, especially if you enjoyed Colony. Of, conversely, if you’ve already read The Robots of Gotham, read Colony! And if you’ve read neither, then pick one and go!
All in all though, the largest reason I have to recommend this book is because it’s like Colony, which given this is a site for readers of my work, makes sense. If you liked Colony, then you should definitely read The Robots of Gotham.