Following up on his terrific SEA OF RUST, a novel about robots surviving after a robopocalypse, C. Robert Cargill’s DAY ZERO goes back to when the s**t hit the fan and the world’s robots rose up against their human masters. This is another easy, solid read that humanizes the robots in a work that’s more CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES than TERMINATOR.
In the future, the intersection of automation and artificial intelligence has led to a mass labor pool of robots and vast numbers of resentful unemployed living on universal basic income. In this world, Pounce, a nanny robot that looks like a large stuffed tiger, cares for Ezra, an eight-year-old boy. When Pounce chances upon the box he was bought in, he questions his nature and what will happen when Ezra outgrows him. Meanwhile, a major terrorist event and override of robot control protocols leads to humans requiring all robots be shut down and many robots rising up to kill their owners. Now Pounce must make a choice whether to join the revolution or fight for Ezra and get him to safety across a suburban battlefield.
I liked this one as much if not more than SEA OF RUST. I prefer apocalyptic to post-apocalyptic stories, and the uprising proved far more engaging for me. Cargill has a very easy-to-read style that hits all the right notes with a steady, solid pace. Pounce and Ezra’s Calvin and Hobbs relationship comes across as genuine and touching, and there are some interesting philosophical questions about free will and whether it is possible in light of programming, whether artificial or biological. This latter philosophical questioning is a bit too repetitive, but I was fine with it, and speaking of which, I appreciated how each plot point changed Pounce’s agency and stakes without the story itself becoming repetitive.
Overall, Cargill produced a believable, multifaceted apocalyptic scenario populated by sympathetic characters fighting for survival. Thumbs up for this one.