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DAY ZERO by C. Robert Cargill Kirkus Star


by C. Robert Cargill

Pub Date: May 18th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-06-240580-7
Publisher: Harper Voyager

A robot purchased to act as a small boy's bodyguard and nanny finds himself torn between sides in a world war pitting AI against humanity.

Minutes after a terrorist attack destroys the world's first city for free robots, the U.S. government mandates the forceful shutdown of all AI, and a mysterious software update disables the universal programming that prevents bots from harming humans. As the world burns around him, Pounce, a fluffy robot designed to look like a stuffed tiger, escorts his newly orphaned 8-year-old charge, Ezra, across a grim landscape full of bots that want the boy dead. Through Pounce's detailed account of the days that follow, which he spends protecting Ezra using a combat-optimized "Mama Bear" mode, Cargill explores philosophies of duty, morality, and free will. All the while, the furry bodyguard remains preoccupied with one basic question: Does he truly love Ezra, or has he just been programmed to do so? Although the bot's conversations with the boy occasionally take a reductionist approach—as in the moment when Pounce informs his charge that "All thinking things deserve pity and understanding"—the book never grows rote or heavy-handed, and choice quips from Ezra such as "What good is it surviving the end of the world if there are still stupid rules about what grown-ups can do and kids can't?" punch through frequently to lighten the mood. Veteran SF fans will spot shades of Isaac Asimov, whose Laws of Robotics appear early on, as well as the novel's dedicatee, Harlan Ellison, but Cargill never lets homage stand in the way of good storytelling.

Slapping a fresh coat of paint on a few age-old science-fiction tropes makes for a delightful read.