Review: Robots of Gotham

Robots of Gotham is a debut mega-novel that combines a complex system of robotic- and human-controlled governments in a world with a vastly different landscape, set a few decades in the future. Through a series of action-adventure sequences and thriller-esque plots, we discover the dark secrets of this world and the implications of fully autonomous robots taking over the world. Coupled with fascinating tech and hard science, McAulty has created an ambitious and well-executed debut.


Todd McAulty
John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018

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4 out of 5 Robots


Robots have taken over most of the world through a mix of war, coups and democratic elections. A man on business in Chicago stumbles upon a series of conspiracies and governmental plots, forced to become a part of the solution to the impending doom. Assisted by a personable robot attaché, a Russian doctor, and a series of supporting characters, he must work against the clock to prevent an even more harrowing future.



Developing the novel’s structure required a true understanding of governmental systems and social hierarchies, resulting in a fully developed worldwide network of governments. From queens to dictators to parliaments to senates, all filled by robots, you see how strange a world could be when the rulers have the intellectual capacity of their entire human population combined. There was also the unique implementation of a robot class that designated a single machine/mind as its own nation – the implications of that are staggering. Single robots with their own economies rival most of the human-run countries. I was just floored by the depth to which McAulty developed his world and the events that drove these changes.


The extremely complex hierarchy of machine classes showed an impressive speculative depth. We don’t just see robots – we see a full society split into a class structure mirroring lower, middle and upper classes, as designated by intellectual abilities instead of wealth. We see a fascinating birthing process where robotic minds are born within a digital space before being transferred to robotic hosts. It was a bit mind-blowing to me. You’ve got intense war machines, some fully cognitive and some just built to destroy, no questions asked. Gone are Asimov’s rules of robotics, which I personally believe makes a robot narrative much more interesting. There were benevolent robot leaders much beloved by humans and evil monster dictators who killed and maimed anyone standing in their way to ultimate power. There’s so much mystery left about the origins of many of these machines and the creation process that led to such a large and capable population.


It’s a high-tech world in some ways and a typical backtracking dystopia in others. You have highly complex robots, both mobile and the size of buildings, all creating new technology for themselves and for their worlds. You’ve got a few scenes involving diagnostic medical machines that show the advancement of humanity before things were overrun. You’ve got hundreds of varieties of drones, capable of all manner of spying. There were a couple of surprise technologies that I don’t want to spoil, one of which makes the majority of the events possible. He had very clever ideas on the methods for robots attaining knowledge and the identification processes for tagging human activity.


There are a couple of terrifying villains in this novel, both robot and human. I don’t want to give too much away, as the mystery behind their existence is one of the primary plot drivers, but be prepared for all-knowing dictators with mysterious murderous backgrounds who will stop at nothing to take over the world.


The constant surveillance can be seen as a definite warning to the direction our world is currently headed. In the novel, the airspace above Chicago is so filled with drones that no one is totally sure who is watching and why. Every person and robot is tagged by dozens of drones whenever they leave a building. If you have a face, it’s recorded in hundreds of databases along with your entire walking and travel history. I find that terrifying, personally. A world without privacy is a world open to persecution, an idea the book illustrates well. Let’s hope our future robotic overlords show us a little more mercy than some of these robot leaders.

On a final note, I do wish the novel had a more concrete ending. There were a number of plot lines left incomplete, and there’s a lot left to learn about the history behind the age of robots and how the world got to this point. I’m hoping future books will delve into this. Everything about the robots was so intricate and well-developed but I wanted more questions answered.


Robots, Dystopia, War, Artificial Intelligence, Government, Plague, Alternate History


Barnes & Noble


McAulty, Todd. Robots of Gotham. John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.

Photo by Aaron Bean on Unsplash

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