I am machine, I never sleep, I keep my eyes wide open. I am machine, a part of me wishes I could just feel something. Let’s welcome our new robot overlords with Humans Bow Down, by James Patterson, Emily Raymond, and Jill Dembowski.
In a world run by machines, humans are an endangered species.
The Great War is over. The robots have won. The humans who survived have two choices: they can submit and serve the vicious rulers they created, or be banished to the Reserve, a desolate, unforgiving landscape where it’s a crime just to be human. And the robots aren’t content–following the orders of their soulless leader, they’re planning to conquer humanity’s last refuge and ensure that all humans bow down.
The only thing more powerful than an enemy who feels nothing is a warrior with nothing left to lose. Six, a feisty, determined woman whose parents were killed with the first shots of the war, and whose siblings lie rotting in prison, is a rebel with a cause: the overthrow of robot rule. Her partner in crime is Dubs, the one person who respects authority even less than she does. On the run for their lives after an attempted massacre, Six and Dubs are determined to save humanity before the robots finish what the Great War started and wipe humans off the face of the earth. Pushed to the brink of survival, Dubs and Six discover a powerful secret that can help set humanity free, but they’ll have to trust the unlikeliest of allies–or they’ll be forced to bow down, once and for all.
Here we have an example of utterly bland, perfectly generic young adult dystopia. A book without a single spark of creativity, passion, or inspiration. Something that exists not because an artist had a vision, but because someone somewhere said “Looks like young adult dystopia novels are popular right now. I bet we could make some money if we quickly churned one out that’s basically the same as all the others and slapped a famous author’s name on it.”
One of the reasons I picked this book up was because of James Patterson’s name on the title; after all, he’s written plenty of other stuff which I’ve liked. In retrospect, however, I wonder how much of this book he actually wrote, and how much was done by these Emily Raymond and Jill Dembowski people I’ve never heard of. According to that ever-reliable font of all human knowledge, Wikipedia, Patterson “has been criticized for co-authoring many of his books, and for being more of a brand that focuses on making money than an artist who focuses on his craft” and “does not do much actual writing when collaborating with other authors”. And this one has the stink of “just didn’t care” all over it.
The setting, such as it is, is a world where humans are generically oppressed by robots. They’re forced to use serial numbers instead of names, because of course they are. They have to eat food made from processed bugs, because remember that scene from Snowpiercer? And, just to really hammer the point home that we’re reading something constructed entirely out of cliches, we get an early scene of robots beating an elderly slave. Because why bother putting any thought into constructing a complicated setting featuring any degree of subtlety or nuance when you can just show one of the villains whipping an elderly slave, thereby immediately informing the audience that they are irredeemably evil bad guys who will inevitably get defeated by the plucky underdog heroes.
Oh, but that assumes we have heroes. Our protagonists, however, are instead shitty edgelord anti-heroes, because the book wants to emphasize how GRIMDARK its dystopia setting is. Our protagonists: they steal purses from little old ladies, because they aren’t your grand-daddy’s type of hero! HARDCOOORE! Our protagonists: their favorite movies are robot-made films produced specifically to torture humans, A Clockwork Orange-style, and which can actually kill humans which watch them, because that’s just how edgy and hardcore they are! EXTREEEME! Our protagonists: presumably, they are supposed to have some kind of positive traits to make me want to root for or at least get invested in them in some way. Unfortunately, I was too overwhelmed by the novel screaming at me how DARK AND EDGY!!!!OMG!1! they are for me to notice any.
So, rather than being interested in the protagonists, I pretty much hated them and just wished they’d die. Which, to be fair, one of them promptly did; but rather than being heartbroken over how tragic it was, my thoughts went more along the lines of “One down…”
Then there are the pictures included in the novel, probably trying to emulate the style of works like the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children trilogy by Ransom Riggs or the Asylum trilogy by Madeleine Roux. However, I can’t really say it works. The unique charm of those books was that they used genuine old found photos and wove a narrative around them. Here, however, the narrative was clearly written first and the pictures staged to match; so there’s no real sense of mystery or wonder to them. Plus, the whole photo thing just doesn’t fit as well with an advanced sci-fi future setting as it does with series rooted in antiquity.
Was there anything about the book I actually liked? Well… the Hu-Bots were as much meat as machine, manufactured from 3D printed flesh as well as circuitry. That was kind of interesting to learn, and it explained why “robots” would behave so very much like living beings: they are far, far closer to actually being human than they would ever admit. And the Hu-Bot detective, MikkyBo, was a good and likeable character – who even showed glimmers of such traits as compassion and internal conflict – who I was much more interested in than I was in Sixie.
The final plot twist made no sense, though. Wasn’t there a scene just a short while ago where the Hu-Bot leader synchronized his datastream with all the Hu-Bots at his rally, to reprogram them into wanting to kill all humans? How could he have done that if… You know what, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a classic case of someone figuring, “Hmm, there should be some surprise twist at the end” and then picking one at random no matter how little sense it made. Whatever. It’s not like anything was going to change my opinion of the novel by that point.
So: pretty bad. Only MikkyBo’s section save it from total worthlessness, and even they aren’t good enough to redeem all the other boring and lousy parts.
Final Rating: 2/5