Humans, Bow Down
by James Patterson
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
James Patterson is primarily known for mystery/thrillers like his Alex Cross and Women's Murder Club series, but he has also dabbled in SF/F. However, Humans, Bow Down is the first of his books I have read. Perhaps I should say this is the first book I've read with his name on the cover. I have no idea how much of the work was his. Emily Raymond is credited as co-author in very small print on the cover, and on the main title page their names are joined "With Jill Dembowski." Did he just contribute the core plot and the others flesh it out with exposition? Was the main idea Raymond's with Patterson polishing it off? Truth be told, I don't care, it doesn't matter for this review. I can't recommend it either way. The only reason I'm bothering is I did finish it, and I'd like to pad my review numbers as much as possible before the end of the year.
In the future, the human race has been subjugated by the robots they created, both standard mechanical models as well as the more human-like androids that came afterwards, the Hu-Bots. Unlike some other stories with which you might be familiar, the Hu-Bots are not indistinguishable from humans. They are all recognizable as androids, from their perfect looks, large stature, and superior strength. They also think they are superior to humans because of their pragmatism, the absence of emotion in their thought processes. Their creator, J. J. Coughlin, had intentions of correcting that with subsequent designs, but his work was cut short by the Hu-Bot uprising. Many think he is dead, including his grand-daughter Sarah, who is now known as "Six," based on the number given to her by the Hu-Bot government. She lives on The Reserve, a mountain encampment west of Denver, full of other cast-offs. Her sister and brother are imprisoned in a work camp. This is one of the first things that doesn't make sense. Humans who have accepted Hu-Bot rule can live somewhat normal lives, while many others are forced to work in factories. Why are there any humans living outside of those two groups? Why do the Hu-Bots tolerate those who live on The Reserve?
There are many more questions posed than answered. Did a few of Coughlin's later designs make it into production? Does the Hu-bot policewoman MikkyBo have some human emotions, or was her change in outlook simply from exposure to certain stimuli? Were later generations of Hu-Bots created through sexual reproduction, or are their family groups merely a fabrication of artificial consciousness? Why does Sarah/Six begin to feel compassion for MikkyBo, and vice-versa? All of that could have led to serious discussion of ethical behavior and moral thought, but it's lost among constant action sequences that cover large swaths of territory in remarkably short periods of time, with both Six and Mikky successful in several encounters, when the superior force of Hu-Bots and regular robot soldiers should have been able to stymie them at every turn. It's not even made clear what the situation is in other parts of the former USA, or the rest of the world. Is every other area a devastated wasteland? As the end approached, I was sure not all plot elements would be resolved, and even though it hasn't been announced, I expect there will be a sequel. If so, I'm not interested.
This is not a judgement of Patterson as an author, since I haven't read anything else and can't have an opinion of it. He may very well deserve his status as the world's best-selling author. This book doesn't do anything to encourage me to explore his work further. It's simplistic, generic, and clichéd, with characters that continue to do stupid things, spouting the most cringe-worthy dialogue I've read in a long time. I never have a problem visualizing while I read, practically screening a movie in my head, but in this case I kept running into the problem of never wanting to see this on the screen. I doubt if the most talented screenwriter, gifted director, or most accomplished actors, could produce something watchable, not unless they reshaped it completely. I'm not the only one with a negative opinion either. Of the more than 120 reviews on Amazon, 35% give it just 1 star, and the only way to rate it less than that is to specify it in the comments, or not bother rating it at all. Same on Goodreads, I was forced to give it 1 star when it deserved less.
I didn't buy this, I won it in an online giveaway. It doesn't deserve its hardcover price of $28.00, and the paperback, heavily discounted by Amazon, is still over priced. If they had used standard printing this would probably have been around 200 pages, barely qualifying for novel length. Instead, the almost 400 pages has very large print and wide margins, very short chapters, with first and last page of chapters less than half a page. Plus there are half-page illustrations (by Alexander Ovchinnikov), sometimes more than one, in almost every chapter. I won't say I'll never read Patterson again, but if I do it will be something from early in his career that I know he wrote on his own. Anyone who has a good title to suggest, let me know. Doesn't have to be SF.
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