Thursday, June 23, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill

Day Zero is set in the same world as the author’s Sea of Rust. That book was about a post-apocalyptic future when humans have been exterminated for a few decades and machine with artificial intelligence are the only thing remaining "alive" on the planet. Sea of Rust briefly goes over the events that ended up in the extinction of the human race, explaining that a human religious sect based in Florida started the war by using an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to exterminate all the machine intelligences who had declared themselves free and independent in a small locale in Ohio. In revenge for that attack, a group of robots slaughtered the members of that church. Somehow the prohibition on robots doing harm to humans and the requirement they obey the orders of all humans (akin to Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics) had been eliminated and from that point on it was robots versus humans. Day Zero is primarily set in that time period of the Great Robot Uprising and provides significantly more detail about how and why the calamity occurred.

When Day Zero starts we are in a future near to present-day where artificial intelligence and thinking machines are advanced, ubiquitous, and indispensable. Machines have taken over many types of labor and job categories. Vehicles, planes, and weapons are almost all autonomous. Robots are in almost every household. The main character of Day Zero is Pounce, who is the robot companion for a 5-year-old boy named Ezra. Pounce is part-pet, part-bodyguard and part-nanny to his young charge; he’s literally programmed to love and protect Ezra with every fiber of his being.
Day Zero does a great job of depicting the rapidity and ease by which human civilization collapses after robots are allowed to make their own decision about whether they should obey and not kill humans after an unauthorized universal software update to all robots worldwide. Different robots in the same household make several decision (i.e. one might want to kill their former owner/masters while another might defend their owner/master from the other robots.)

The key idea of both books is centering the robot (machine intelligence) as the first-person narrator of the stories to be told. In Sea of Rust there simply aren’t any organic intelligences (i.e. humans) around which to tell the story. And in Day Zero, the primary human intelligence is a child that’s too young to carry the story. So, the story is told compellingly in the voice of Pounce.
Day Zero would make a great movie; it’s full of action, suspense, chases, surprising twists and sudden deaths (it is primarily the depiction of the beginning of a robot apocalypse which leads to the extinction of the human race, after all!) Telling the story from the perspective of Pounce, who is programmed to do everything in his power to protect and nurture his human charge, 6-year old Ezra, makes for an exciting story. After all, we know from Sea of Rust that no humans survive 30 years into the future, so does that mean Ezra’s doomed? Is Pounce doomed? I don’t want to give any spoilers but I can say that neither character appears in Sea of Rust which is set 30 years after Day Zero but in the context of both stories that’s not that surprising.
Even though Day Zero is set before Sea of Rust it was published after.  The two can be technically be read in either order but I read them in publication order and I think reading Day Zero after Sea of Rust gives the former a heightened sense of import. Generally, a duology is almost inherently unsatisfying, so I really hope Cargill writes a third book in the world, probably set in the time after  Sea of Rust but following characters and ideas presented in Day Zero. I think it’s possible, and I’d love to read it!

Title: Day Zero.
C. Robert Cargill.
Format: Kindle.
Length: 304 pages.
Publisher: Harper Voyager.
Date Published: May 18, 2021.
Date Read: April 21, 2022.

★★★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).


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