Thursday, February 15, 2018

Humans, Bow Down, by James Patterson and Emily Raymond

Okay, I'm just going to be honest and admit that I didn't like this book, and I think it was a combination of things not making much sense, everything feeling rather rushed, not being able to care about the characters to the point I was rooting for them to die, and some poor writing choices. The combination is a book that feels like a mess trying to cash in on the craze for dystopian science-fiction novels that have been all the rage for the past few years. There were some opportunities for good plots in this book but ultimately the result was a mess that in my opinion, isn't worth your time.

The plot of Humans, Bow Down, is that ten years ago robots rose up against humanity in the Great War and managed to vanquish all of humanity within three days. Now we live in a topsy-turvy world where humans are enslaved by robots and must do tedious calculations and spot-weld automobiles before being donated to an inner-city school. Okay, not quite that, but you get the point. Resistance, humans revolt, et cetera, et cetera, the dance hasn't changed, only the music.

The problem is this book starts off confusing and just never quite makes sense after that. Leading the robot overlords are the hu-bots, humanoid robots that look like humans but are insanely strong and lack the capacity for empathy and emotions. The robots conclude this makes them more evolved than the barbaric humans and gives them the right to lord over humanity. Except, within the first few chapters of the book we see the robots doing things which make no sense for evolved overlords to be doing. For example the robots go to church. And not robot church, they go to ordinary human churches but attended and administered by robots. It's never really explained in detail, but presumably the robots just appropriated human religion. If robots were trying to be more human, this would at least make sense in a cargo cult sort of way. But if they're so superior to humans because they aren't bound by human emotions, then why would they involve themselves with religion? Which is inherently an emotional experience.

The same goes for robots eating for pleasure. It's established that the robots gain absolutely no material benefit from eating food. They're powered entirely by electricity so the food only has to be extracted later. And eating for pleasure is, again, an emotional experience and the robots are superior to humans because they don't have emotions. So...why are they even bothering to eat in the first place? It makes no sense to me. Even the title of the book gets incorporated into this nonsense where robots do things for emotional reasons, despite them explicitly not having emotions.

At several points in the book, the robots announce, ''Humans, bow down.'' at which point the humans are expected to grovel on their hands and knees for their robot overlords. The first time this is done is when a general of the robot forces stops in a market square. At which point he surveys the kneeling humans, says something to the effect of how good it is to see humans on their knees, and then drives off. I'm sorry, but what the heck was the point of that? Because as far as I can tell all it did was briefly stoke the ego of some robot guy who, again, isn't supposed to have emotions. It just makes the robots come across as kind of stupid.

The other big problem is that there's simply too much going on in this book. The chapters are all incredibly short and for a book barely over four hundred pages it manages to have over seventy different chapters. And the authors push in all sorts of plotlines with the result being it feels like they were trying to check off every trope possible and shove them into the book, never mind if the plots aren't well developed or even coherent. We have humans imprisoned for minor offences and paraded like animals in a zoo as a lesson to the other humans. We have human characters stealing a sports car, prompting a robot investigation. We have a quantum computer capable of emulating brain patterns and storing memories. We have humans pushed into reservations where their interest largely extends to where they're getting their next high from more than anything else. We have a robot who is apparently transsexual (I say that because the robot in question is biologically male but chooses to dress and appear female. Like everything else in this book the authors dedicate far too little time to it for it to be developed.) and also afflicted with a glitch that makes them feel *gasp* emotions! And we have robots being reprogrammed by both sides in the war between humans and robots, which as far as I'm concerned raises some interesting ethical questions but those are never brought up in the book.

So as you can see, there's so much going on in this book that there simply isn't enough time for the authors to adequately talk about everything. As I usually say in these situations, if they had stuck to one or two threads instead of going all over the place, it would have been a better chance for the plot to develop in interesting ways. Instead, we end up with a storyline with absolutely everything including the kitchen sink tossed in for good measure. The result is the book just doesn't work at all and I think it's not worth spending the time to read it as a result.

- Kalpar

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