Interview with Daniel Wilson author of Robopocalypse


Tell us a little about yourself and your background? (Where are you from, where you grew up, when did you start writing?)

I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and went to Booker T. Washington high school. My dad ran Howard’s Auto Top & Body Shop (which he bought from my grandfather), so I spent a lot of my childhood sweeping the shop. As a teenager, I wrote science fiction but never could get anything published. Eventually, I decided to study the real thing. Oddly enough, it was only after I earned a PhD in robotics that I was able to sell my first book: How to Survive a Robot Uprising.


To start I wanted to say I thoroughly enjoyed Robopocalypse. How did you come up with the idea for the story? (Check out my review of Robopocalypse.)

Well, I spent a lot of time in basement laboratories building robots. At the Carnegie Mellon robotics institute I designed the artificial intelligence for smart environments that spied on the elderly. And my friends were building all kinds of stuff — humanoid robots, micro-robots, flying robots, swimming robots, space-based robotics, and robots that could locomote over the surface of a beating heart —everything. I was surrounded by the future, so the stories in Robopocalypse came to me naturally over the years…


You chose a very different writing style to give the story, why did you decide to write the story like this, basically  showing a handful of characters across the planet and how they deal with the robot uprising? 

There were so many little amazing moments that I wanted to put in the novel. But the book would have been two thousand pages if I had put in everything that happens in between. So instead of making the novel contiguous, I jumped straight to the good stuff. The story leaps between extraordinary moments being experienced by people all over the world across several years.


I see where you have also written quite a few short stories that have been published in other books. Can you talk a little about some of these stories and why you think the sci-fi genre is so intermingled with short stories throughout its history? 

I grew up reading and loving short story anthologies from the golden age of pulp sci-fi. Maybe I just had a short attention span, who knows? But I have always adored how a short story can come together on the last page and slap you in the face with wonder (The Nine Billion Names of God, Arthur C. Clarke) or put tears on your cheeks (Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes). It’s an amazing magic trick, to put symbols on a page and cause a person to feel that deeply. My own short stories, like The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever (Best IMG_0823American Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2015), are my attempt to pull off the same trick.


There is a sequel to Robopocalypse called Robogenesis, what made you want to write a sequel? Why did you want to continue the story, and will there be a third book to complete the trilogy?

I always envisioned Robopocalypse as a trilogy and I’m absolutely planning on a third novel. Robogenesis delves into the deeper machinations of the super-intelligent AIs who caused the catastrophe in Robopocalypse. It’s a deeper, darker, more character-driven novel. That said, there is a lot more story waiting to be explored in the final installment (though I sadly have no ETA yet).


I saw where you did some writing for DC Comics on the Earth 2 series. What drove you to make the leap from scifi writer to writing comics? I am sure there is certainly some overlap in there somewhere.  

DC Comics called and asked if I’d like to take over a 26-issue weekly series called Earth 2: World’s End. I was just naïve and excited enough to say yes! How could anyone turn down such a great opportunity? Since then, I have written quite a bit for DC, including a few issues of the main Earth 2 title, Earth 2: Society #1-7, and an original graphic novel called Quarantine Zone that will be released in March 2016. Science fiction is the lifeblood of comic books and I felt right at home exploring those worlds and the creatures, technology, and characters within them.


Your background is in robotics and by all accounts you are an expert. With that being said you have written a few nonfiction books on this topic. Can you talk a little about them and reason behind writing them?

Back when I had that freshly minted PhD in robotics, I was more suited for writing non-fiction. In fact, it took four non-fiction books before I built up the gumption to try my hand at selling a piece of fiction. After How to Survive a Robot Uprising, I wrote Where’s My Jetpack?, tracking down the technology of the future we were promised. After that, I put together How to Build a Robot Army (to put readers back on the offense) and The Mad Scientist Hall of Fame (forensic breakdowns of the world’s greatest mad villains and heroes). Oh, and Bro-Jitsu: The Martial Art of Sibling Smackdown laid down all the torture techniques that we siblings use on each other!


Of all your projects (novels, short stories, comics, and nonfiction) which on are you most proud of, or which one means the most to and why?

My first short story, The Nostalgist, was turned into a short film (of the same name) by the director Giacomo Cimini. The film he made is touching and brutal and it won lots of awards, including Audience Favorite in the 2015 Science Fiction + Fantasy Short Film Festival at the EMP Museum in Seattle. It was special to me because I got to see a story I had made inspire dozens of other people to create something beautiful.


As a successful writer, do you have any specific goals? Maybe something that you set for yourself either words written per day, or how many novels you would like to complete each year? What drives you to keep pushing forward? 

I have been writing full-time for more than a decade, and the main thing is to make yourself work when you don’t feel like it, when you think what you’re doing might be shit, and when you’re sure nobody is going to read it anyway. It doesn’t matter how you force yourself to work. I use a mixture of guilt and fear of becoming homeless. But the work ethic is crucial. It’s something I picked up in graduate school, where nobody makes you finish.


Can you tell the audience about any new projects you are working on, what does 2016 hold for Daniel H. Wilson?

Quarantine Zone comes out in March — please buy a copy! In the meantime, I’m writing my next novel, Avtomat, which considers a present-day world in which a hidden race of ancient robots has been driving our technological progress. These machines are running out of power and have begun cannibalizing each other to survive, threatening to reveal a conspiracy older than civilization.


Is there anything else you would like to add?

I want to thank anybody who takes the trouble to read my work. It’s a privilege to be able to write for a living. I also love to hear what readers think, and the (sometimes surprising) conclusions they make. I’m available on Twitter @danielwilsonPDX and online at Readers should feel free to email me anytime at I’m usually not too bad about getting back to people. Thanks!


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