Transformers. Terminators. Number 5. Rebellious robots are nothing new to the pop culture canon. But what happens when your child’s Smart Toys start developing minds of their own? When elevators become homicidal?
The buzz among critics and readers is that no one has turned the age-old robot uprising theme on its head like Tulsa-born writer Daniel H. Wilson. Author of such previous titles as How to Survive a Robot Uprising, How to Build a Robot Army and A Boy and His Bot, Wilson has struck literary gold with his New York Times bestselling novel Robopocalypse. The book, which follows the disastrous trajectory of what befalls the human race when our everyday technology turns treacherous, has seized the imaginations – and fears – of readers everywhere and is being hailed as one of the best thrillers of the summer
The novel goes into grisly and downright creepy detail on the battle between humans and robots. But if the idea of a real “robopocalypse” keeps you awake at night, don’t fret. Wilson, who holds a doctorate in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and thus could be called “in the know,” doesn’t seem too worried about his fiction becoming the future. And he is especially optimistic about the survival chances of his home state.
“Oklahoma is a top-notch place for surviving the robot uprising because it is relatively rural, and there are local tribal governments that can step in to preserve order in the event that the larger United States government has collapsed,” he says.
The novel is partly set in Oklahoma and features plenty of locations and entities that will be familiar to natives of the state.
Creating almost as much furor as the novel itself is director Steven Spielberg’s rapid move to purchase the film rights to the book – before it was even finished.
“I wrote a 40-page book proposal and a 100-page sample of Robopocalypse, and my literary agent took them out to the publishing houses in New York City,” Wilson says. “A scout for the movie studios got hold of the submission and immediately leaked the sample pages to DreamWorks. The pages (which didn’t have my name on them) made their way to Steven Spielberg. He made the decision to track me down and make an offer right away. One week later, I was sitting in a room talking to the filmmakers and promising them more pages.”
Wilson’s fascination with all things tech began during his early years in Tulsa.
“In high school, I got really into computers and programming and science fiction,” he says. “I read lots of short stories, but especially liked Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury – and, of course, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.”
After high school, Wilson went on to get his bachelor’s degree from The University of Tulsa before attending CMU.
Now 33, he has turned his passion for science into a full-time writing career. As evidenced by his works, though, the love of technology and its potential has not taken much of a back seat to books.
“Watching my old friends from school progress in their careers is a real treat,” he says. “The goofy kids I used to study with are now doing things like driving the Mars Rover, putting autonomous cars into cities and designing the next generation of Roombas. I’m a full-time writer now and I don’t officially belong to the ‘roboticist’ club anymore, but I like to think I’m an honorary member.”
Although Wilson calls Portland, Ore., home now, he is nostalgic about his years in Oklahoma.
“I loved growing up in Tulsa,” he says, “Specifically between Harvard and Yale just north of Admiral. I have a lot of fond memories: my little brother and I riding bikes down to the creek with our dog following us, walking to Owen Elementary School and visiting our grandpa in Wagoner,” he says. “Every Saturday, my dad would take us swimming at the downtown YMCA, then to Three B’s to buy used books, and then to Coney I-Lander for hotdogs. One thing I miss now is drinking frosty mugs of root beer from the old A&W root-beer stand and going to the Admiral Twin drive-in with my family. Good times.”
And while his home state may be the ideal hideout from the forces of technology, Wilson urges caution for Oklahomans in the event of a true robot apocalypse.
“My advice for this completely fictional situation is not to flee the cities and run for the country unless you know how to survive there.”
Words to live by.