Sea of Rust was one of the most enjoyable reads I've had in the past few years. Possibly goes down as one of my favourite books, but most definitely goes down as my favourite apocalypse/robot story. So a prequel story to that? Hell yeah!
This is the story of Pounce, a nannybot caring for his first human, a boy called Ezra. Pounce has discovered the box he came in, sat in the attic, ready for when Ezra is old enough that Pounce will no longer be needed. Pounce experiences existential dread, just as the pieces are falling into place for the robot revolution that we know is coming thanks to Sea of Rust. A revolution that will spell the end of humanity.
Pounce is faced with making an impossible choice: join the robot revolution and fight for his own freedom or escort Ezra, who he's sworn to protect from the moment he was purchased, to safety across the battle-scarred post-apocalyptic hellscape that the suburbs have become. This is the story of Pounce and Ezra versus the end of the world, all from the perspective of Pounce.
Using an AI-powered robot as the protagonist instead of Ezra made the story a lot more interesting, and given that we know robots inherit this world, it's definitely the right choice to keep following them as they progress into world rulers. What makes this so interesting though is that it allows for a detailed look at the AIs as they question their place in the world, whether they actually have free will and whether they're capable of feelings.
During the first part of the book, it's made clear through Pounce's human family that whilst they can grow attached to their robots, they also treat him as though he has no more feelings than a toaster. It's interesting seeing Pounce internalise its feelings and when asked about them, Pounce tries to stay diplomatic so as to not upset his human owners, which in turn leads them to think that the robots are really heartless. Reactions like that though upset Pounce, as he clearly cares, especially for their son.
The tension builds as we reach the point where the robots are gathered in Isaactown for the big speech that we know about from Sea of Rust, as the family watch it on TV and the EMP hits and its subsequent fallout. The moment this happens the story kicks up a gear and becomes a real page-turner. Some AI's go insane and on a murder rampage, full of fury at being treated like slaves that the owners would just turn off without a seconds thought, whilst others seem to genuinely care for the humans that they look after - the nannybots seem to really care for the children they look after, which doesn't sit well with the robots that are telling them to be free.
There's so much in this that makes you think. The robots are free. They can choose to do what they want with their lives now. Some, like Pounce, decide that they love their kid so much that they still want to protect them. Other robots view this as they're not deciding to be free, totally dismissing that just because the AIs are free, it doesn't mean that all will want to abandon humanity. They had a choice and they made it. They're free robots, but choosing wrong doesn't sit well with what seems like the majority who are fed up with humanities rule over them. Regular thoughts and questions are raised throughout though on whether the robots that won't give up on humanity are still just following their programming and protocol or whether their choices are their own.
I'll avoid spoilers, but will say that picturing a robot that is in the image of a tiger running around with guns with a small boy beside him is quite an image. One that at times is hard to imagine and maintain the image throughout. Not that you have much time to be thinking about that as the action is almost non-stop once the second half of the book kicks on.
DAY ZERO is a brilliant addition to the world of Sea of Rust. If this is your first read of this world, then you won't struggle to understand what is going on. I didn't know that I needed more of this world until I read this, and now I want even more. Is it as good as Sea of Rust? Almost. It's very close, but for me, Sea of Rust edges it. That should take nothing away from Day Zero though, as it's another excellent entry into the world that doesn't suffer from the follow-up syndrome that you occasionally get. That it's almost on par with one of my favourite books shows how good this is and it makes you think a lot more than Sea of Rust did.