Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review: Robopocalypse

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the acknowledgement section at the end of this novel, the author mentions that a major motion picture studio was enthusiastic about the work. That was not really surprising to me since this book reads as much like a movie treatment for the next big sci-fi thriller as a science fiction novel. Like many action thrillers, this book has the planet Earth going all to hell with something hunting down all the human beings. Instead of zombies like in AMC's well-known The Walking Dead television series or alien invaders like in TNT's less-well-known Falling Skies, the threat here comes from computers, robots and various computer-controlled devices like cars and tanks. That can easily be surmised from the book's title plus the cover art featuring a zoomed-in robot face. With its robot antagonists, the novel resembles The Matrix and Terminator movie series.

Unlike all of the previously mentioned works which mainly focus on a lone hero or small group of co-located characters, this novel jumps between groups of characters dispersed across the globe. Outside of the initial coalescing of the core groups, the various groups rarely interact directly with the other groups. The primary characters are a pair of Boston brothers. One of the brothers is a sergeant with the local National Guard unit and a natural-born leader. The other is a screw-up and would-be photojournalist. Other protagonists include a United States Congresswoman and her two young children, a construction worker and his wife in New York City, a policeman who is also a Native American tribal leader in Oklahoma, his son who is a robot wrangler in the Army and stationed in Afghanistan, an ├╝ber-geeky phone phreak in London, and finally a brilliant robot repairman in Japan who is much more comfortable around his robot companions than other flesh-and-blood humans.

The final outcome is known from the prologue, but there are plenty of surprising twists and turns as the story unfolds. Along the way, there are several moments of the hopeful Rodney King "Can we all get along?" variety. Again, this book reads more like a movie than a novel. The characters are the barely-developed, two-dimensional type that are expected in the cinema world but are disappointing in a full-length novel. Of course, I expect fleshing out personalities is difficult with such a widely spread ensemble cast. In summary, this book was an exciting thrill ride but quite disappointing on the character development side.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Big Winner

A few Fridays back, my girlfriend Sara and I attended an evening beer tasting event at the Wine Merchant of Cary. We were to be tasting five different beers. Sara is friends with the guys that work at the shop, and her friend Justin informed her beforehand that the selected brews would have a minimum of 7% ABV. We wisely elected to have some dinner ahead of time. It turns out the minimum ABV of the five selections was not 7% but a hefty 9%. I also expected the pours to be in the two-ounce range based on previous beer tasting. We told the pours were to be half pint, but the pours seemed to be more like three-quarter pint.

My descriptions of the five beers borrows heavily from the tasting sheet that was given out at the beginning. The first beer was Hoppy Daze IPA which is a 9% ABV Belgian-style IPA from Coronado Brewing Company. From the tasting sheet, this West Coast "unfiltered IPA is combined with a unique blend of European grains, a variety of hops, and Belgian yeast to create a lasting and unforgettable taste to its very bitter end."

The second beer was Robert Johnson's Hellhound On My Ale from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery which is located in Milton, Delaware. The tasting sheet says that this 10% ABV beer is a tribute to the legendary blues artist Robert Johnson. Again from the tasting sheet, "100% Centennial hops were used to accentuate and magnify the citrusy notes of the centennial hops."

The halfway point of the tasting lineup was Bourbon Barrel-Aged Wee Heavy from Thirsty Dog Brewing Company located in the tropical paradise that is Akron, Ohio. This 9.7% ABV Scotch ale "is a deep red, malt-driven, caramel bomb of a beer that has acquired a gorgeous vanilla oak character from time spent in bourbon barrels." Also from the tasting sheet, this brew is "super smooth and rich with layers of toffee and dark fruit." Considering my general distaste for wood-aged beverages of any type, it is no surprise that this was my least favorite of the five.

Duck-Rabbit Baltic Porter was the next offering. The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery is located in Farmville, North Carolina which is about 70 miles east of Raleigh. The tasting sheet says this 9% ABV beer's "full-blooded roasty character is balanced by complex alcohol notes," and its taste has "lots of chocolate and roasted coffee bean notes come through."

Bringing up rear was B.O.R.I.S. "The Crusher"  from Hoppin' Frog which is another brewery from Akron, Ohio. According to the tasting sheet, B.O.R.I.S is short for "Bodacious Oatmeal Russian Imperial Stout." This 9.4% ABV oatmeal imperial stout has been described with words like "chocolate, creamy oatmeal, coffee, vanilla, and smoke."

The highlight of the evening for yours truly was the raffle. Everybody was entered to win one of five mystery bags from the shop. I seldom win raffles and drawings, so I actually told Sara to put herself down twice. She declined to do so, and my name was entered. I was surprised to hear my name called as the first "Big Winner." The mystery bag contained a four-pack of mixed beers which included a bottle of Green Flash Grand Cru, a bottle of Moinette Brune from la Brasserie Dupont in Belgium, a bottle of Rodenbach Classic (also from Belgium), and a can of Evil Twin Hipster Ale. I had previously tried the Hipster Ale, so that can happened to end up in a marinate for some tasty steaks.