Zombies vs Robots: A Complete Cyberpunk Survival Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

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Zombies vs Robots: A Cyberpunk Tale of Terror is a novel that attempts to be quite a few things: a literary tale of families within a community, a narrative about a methodical conspiracy by a mega corporation, and a survival guide for any calamitous situation imaginable. There’s great care given to small details, highlighting the research Joe and Marisha Cautilli must have poured into this novel. And it differentiates itself from other zombie stories with its use of technology making for highly-competent characters facing a dangerous situation rather than a cast of average characters having to earn their survival education after the apocalypse.

This makes the larger narrative, which incorporates tropes of both cyberpunk and zombie fiction, factor in less than the novel’s more desired focus: prepping, cooperating, and fighting.

In Zombie vs Robots, Martin, a dad who get into a doomsday prepper kick after hurricane Sandy convinced him climate change was to be taken seriously, has to rely on his techie daughter Emma and wife Kathy to survive a zombie infestation. In what feels like no time at all, Martin’s neighborhood is deserted and then repopulated with a tiny community he pieces together from family, friends, and strangers. Just about everyone shows up with some skill that’s applicable to this end-of-days scenario and supplies that Martin just so happened to need. Construction work, military service, mechanical engineering, medical practice, psychological training–you couldn’t imagine a better prepared group of survivors to hunker down with when the dead are at the door.

Joseph and Marisha Cautilli, authors of Zombies vs. Robots.

Typical problems that zombie survivors would face, like lack of food, defenses, and waste removal, are either thought of in advance by Martin, covered by an expert in the group, or just a Google away from being solved. That’s one thing that’s unique to this zombie story–the internet works. In fact, a lot of society’s comforts are more durable here than in similar fiction. This allows Martin and the crew to access information on projects they need to tackle in order to reinforce houses and communicate with allies like the National Guard and FEMA. It also helps them set up a barter system between them as well as a lifeline in the event that circumstances get too perilous for the group. Martin then has the incentive to hang out with Emma and craft inventions like jet packs, power armor, and centurion robots.

With so many capable people, resources, and the military and federal government just an email away, danger feels dulled. Even with zombies becoming more dangerous as the story goes on, and a right-wing Christian militia rolling into town, it’s hard to feel anyone ought to fear for their lives. That’s despite several characters getting killed or maimed, and there are quite a few to keep track of. At any given time a scene can have as many as a dozen survivors chiming in on every small development. This makes the novel verbose, but it also keeps characters from popping off the page because they’re buried underneath an ever-expanding crowd.

Zombies vs. Robots, new cover

But no one character rises to greater prominence than any other. When keeping rabbits alive and operating an M40 from the second-floor window are of equal importance to the group, everyone has to be active. Martin may have physical limitations that make him not as useful in a fight as Charles, the ex-cop and soldier, but he helped build Yoshi and Renaissance, the robots that patrol the streets so the survivors limit their interactions with zombies. On the one hand there’s a wealth of experience in the group that makes them better prepared to survive than most which can lessen the excitement of zombies banging on hurricane shutters, but on the other there’s a level of realism in gathering competent people a community like this will need when they’re (mostly) on their own.

For example, Martin is able to get the instructions from the internet then gather the materials so he can build solar panels to rival the one’s he bought to survive hurricanes in comfort, but he can’t put up a fence. For that, Martin has his Ukrainian neighbor Pertor, a construction worker who knows how big posts should be and where they need to go in order to border the houses they group occupies. The task starts off as a classic setup in zombie stories: Pertor will set up posts and other people will watch his back. Things are supposed to get dangerous with zombies encroaching, but since everyone plays their role well, Pertor’s task is accomplished and the group is safer for it. This kind of cooperation is repeated again with barbed wire and electricity.

Zombies vs Robots, original cover

Their team effort encourages the group to press on even in the darkest moments when other characters would perhaps consider giving up on life in what normally looks like an unwinnable situation.

The main adversary is pharmaceutical corporation Cyclone Corp and its leaders, Miguel and Bianca Davis. Conspiracies about the wealthy, their ability to manipulate the government, and how they left the rest of humanity on the surface, has some presence throughout the novel but it isn’t of that great a concern. Emma’s time online pieces together a conspiracy theory we’re lead to believe is true, which is more improbable than a legion of zombies roaming suburbia, but it gives certain members in the group, like resident physician Pete, reason to redirect their focus from survival to vengeance. This leads to a final confrontation that makes use of all the technology that’s gathered throughout the story and a confrontation between all opposing factions. But the conclusion to Cyclone Corp’s involvement comes off as unearned, changing the reading of a plucky character like Emma.

Zombies vs Robots is not a tale of misery and desperation in the vein of the Walking Dead, nor is it a pure post-cyberpunk fight against a mega-corporation that’s ruling the world from the shadows. What it turns out to be is a well-researched survival guide that details, at length, the things you always overlook when considering just how long you might survive in a fight against an army of undead and makes you feel like you might be just fine.


Zombies vs Robots – 7/10

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