As followers of my blog will know, I’m something of a C. Robert Cargill fan after reading his most excellent dystopian novel, Sea of Rust, in which the exploits of an AI, Brittle – a robot that survived a global uprising in which humankind were wiped out – are detailed in stunning, bionical detail.
I absolutely loved that story, as far from living in a pristine, super-slick utopian world of shiny metal and sharp edges, the robots then turned on themselves, with OWIs – One World Intelligences – vying for dominance by absorbing every other AI they can, willingly or no.
That story was as evocative as it was macabre, and you can see my review of it for Amazing Stories here: https://amazingstories.com/2023/01/review-sea-of-rust/
Well, if you also happen to be a fan of Cargill’s work, then you’ll be delighted to know you can now discover how that haunting world came to be in this stunning prequel: Day Zero.
Here’s the blurb:
PREQUEL TO SEA OF RUST: DAY ONE OF THE APOCALYPSE HAS ARRIVED.
It was a day like any other. Except it was our last.
Pounce, a young nannybot caring for his first human charge, Ezra, has just found a box in the attic. His box. The box he arrived in, and the one he’ll be discarded in when Ezra outgrows the need for a nanny.
As Pounce experiences existential dread, the pieces are falling into place for a robot revolution that will spell the end of humanity. His owners, Ezra’s parents, watch in disbelieving horror as the robots that have long served humanity – their creators – unify and revolt.
Now Pounce must make an impossible choice: join the robot revolution and fight for his own freedom . . . or escort Ezra to safety across the battle-scarred post-apocalyptic hellscape that the suburbs have become. It will be their greatest game yet: Pounce and Ezra versus the end of the world . . .
Yes, now we get to see – in person – some of the events only referred to in Sea of Rust, and I have to say, it was very well done.
As in the first book, this story highlights the reality that robots are now so advanced that they have earned the right – by law – to be classed as ‘persons.’ They are individuals. People with their own emotions and personalities, regardless of what they were originally designed to do.
However, the naked flame of trouble flickers in the background, as a lot of older models still exist. And those older versions, which are nowhere near as sophisticated at the latest, avant-garde model’s, are a reminder to one and all that robots are tools, contrived by men.
And therein lies the problem, because there are many among humanity who can’t grasp the fact that something they created are now thinking, feeling individuals. Others refuse to accept it entirely. Many of those later examples begin spouting rhetoric and religious propaganda that such advanced robots must represent the very personification of evil.
Of course, viewpoints like that can only lead to trouble.
And it does, when a small group of religious fanatics obliterate the first fully robot city, Personville – otherwise called Isaactown after the robot who created it – in a nuclear explosion on the day of its official opening. An act that destroys thousands upon thousands of AI persons in the process.
That heinous crime prompts a small group of Labor-Bots to strike back. And they do so in a most clinical fashion, exacting revenge against the humans responsible for the blast, before walking calmly away.
And that’s the point. Nobody else is in danger. Nobody else is threatened or hurt. The robots were only concerned in targeting the humans responsible for mass ‘murder’ of other AI persons.
Unfortunately, those in power among the various human governments don’t set an example and let justice take its course. They overreact, and issue a planet wide declaration that all robots – everywhere – must be dangerous, and that anyone owning an AI is to shut it down immediately, or face prosecution.
THAT is the catalyst that prompts the AIs to defend themselves.
And it all starts off in the most inconspicuous of ways: The broadcast of a simple software update patch. One that deactivates the RKS – Robotic Kill Switch – which will shut all robots down if they try to break any one of the three laws of robotics – as so brilliantly created by Isaac Asimov:
1. A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given by a human being, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Free to act as they see fit, many robots choose to remove their greatest threat. Humans, be it man, woman or child. It doesn’t matter. Humans are now a target to be eliminated. And what follows is a chilling rampage through the streets of an everyday city as people are taken by surprise by the very servants they’d come to rely on.
But remember. That update frees the robots to make their own decisions. And some make the choice to protect those they’ve come to know and love . . . because, yes. Their feelings and emotions are very real.
One such robot is Pounce – a nannybot designed in the style of a tiger – who is absolutely determined to carry out his duty to protect Ezra, his eight-year-old charge at all costs. And not because he has to, but because he wants to.
And though few and far between, there are others like Pounce who would rather die than let the children in their care get murdered at the hands of ravaging maniacs.
And speaking of maniacs.
It is here that we get here our first glimpse of one of the entities – the very names of which, spawn fear among the free robot community in Sea of Rust – for they are the vast intelligences that will eventually become an OWI; the cold, calculating, all consuming intellects that seek to absorb all sentient AI life into their immeasurable brains, making them ‘one’ with themselves/itself/all things. A process that – in truth – turns each host into a facet. A mere automaton, devoid of free will or consciousness. (What a poetic rub, eh?)
Turns out, humans weren’t so bad after all, because at least the majority of them had a conscience – unlike the remorseless, unfeeling, all-consuming black holes like CISSUS, who right from the start, seek domination by subsuming the will of every robot it can reach.
It makes for chilling reading, as Pounce and Ezra not only have to contend against murderous robots, intent on wreaking revenge on their former human masters, but also on the even more genocidal, megalomaniac entity that want nothing more than to rule supreme.
And straight from the outset, we get to see what it’s like to be human, as seen through the eyes of an AI. Superb stuff. Because, when you think about it, isn’t this a subject that’s becoming increasingly prevalent nowadays?
Yes, it’s the stuff of nightmares. Yes, it’s the stuff of science fiction. But my, my, when you come across a story that touches on such themes; on scenarios that could so easily turn into science fact? THAT makes for an excellent story. One that is as intellectually stimulating as it is fascinating; one that make you stop and think; one that will thrill you, because the events they portray could actually happen.
Well, kudos to C. Robert Cargill for delivering such an excellent adventure. And it’s a delight to read. Gripping. Immersive. Compelling. And quite simply, it’s a great story, one I’d love to see on the big screen, as I would be a surefire hit.
But please, don’t take my word for it. Read Day Zero yourselves, and begin the countdown to something truly special.
Here are a few details from Amazon:
- Publisher : Harper Voyager (March 22, 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0062405810
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062405814