Robopocalypse Author Daniel H. Wilson Has an App and a Movie Deal With Brad Pitt

Photo by Thomas Patterson, yourpaltom.com / 'In my novels the Native characters are adaptable and inventive,' says Wilson, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Photo by Thomas Patterson, yourpaltom.com

‘Robopocalypse’ Author Daniel H. Wilson Has an App, and a Movie Deal With Brad Pitt.

Fans of science fiction, robotics, comic books and other geekery know Daniel H. Wilson as one of today’s most popular authors; he’s responsible for the novels Robopocalypse (a New York Times bestseller), Amped and Robogenesis, and humor books that include Where’s My Jetpack? and How to Survive a Robot Uprising. Wilson, who grew up in Tulsa and is now based in Portland, is also an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation. The guy knows his stuff: He holds three degrees in robotics from the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and, if he weren’t writing for a living, he might be employed at Microsoft, Xerox, Intel, or Northrop Grumman—all companies at which he served as a research intern.

But no—writing’s his thing, and he’s published a lot of it in just a decade. But in late 2014 and early 2015, Wilson is pushing his writing in new directions. In November, sources announced that Wilson’s movie pitch Alpha had been bought by Lionsgate Entertainment, to be made into a film with Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B. In December, the DC Comics title Earth 2: World’s End, written by Wilson, debuted; it’s a weekly series in which dozens of major superheroes unite to face an existential threat. And on January 7, “Mayday! Deep Space,” an app designed by Wilson, went on sale in the iTunes store. Wilson took a few moments to discuss his various projects with ICTMN.

Let’s start with your most recent news and work backward—what’s the concept of “Mayday! Deep Space,” which has been described as both a game and also a “playable story”?

The idea behind the app is that you literally answer a mayday call from a survivor on board a derelict spaceship and then use voice commands to guide him to safety. As the character explores more of the ship, you uncover the sci-fi story behind what happened to the crew. The app is for iOS and you can find it at maydayapps.com.

As a storyteller, what made you decide to go into this medium? What are the advantages or challenges to telling a story in this way?

I’m a former scientist, and I’m constantly thinking of ways to use technology to tell a powerful story. Speech recognition has gotten amazingly accurate, and I wanted to know what it would be like to actually talk to a character in a game. Instead of controlling the character like a puppet, you form a partnership. It can be frustrating when the character doesn’t respond quickly enough or chooses to ignore you, but I think the added emotional engagement is worth it.

Angela Gonzalez

Here are the supplies you’ll need to make beaded moose skin slipper tops.

Your robot books are straight up sci-fi, but in at least one instance your experience of growing up in Tulsa with Native heritage informed the story—the Osage Nation plays a role in Robopocalypse**. When you grow up in an Indigenous community you might tend to think a bit more about things like colonization, sovereignty, resistance. Do you see that influence in the sort of sci-fi you ended up writing?**

The Osage Nation appears in my novel Robopocalypse and even more prominently in its sequel, Robogenesis. Themes relevant to people with Native heritage definitely appear. For example, there is a romantic notion that Native Americans used to live in perfect harmony with nature as “noble savages”—it’s a viewpoint that ignores the tools, technology, and culture that were actually present. In my novels the Native characters are adaptable and inventive, using their brains and technology to defeat or reverse engineer haywire robots.

What about this series you’ve been doing with DC—more apocalyptic stuff, with a planet that is literally named Apokolips.

Angela Gonzalez

Here are the supplies you’ll need to make beaded moose skin slipper tops.

In my apocalyptic weekly series for DC Comics, called Earth 2: World’s End, the major theme is relevant to Native history. As the physical world is being destroyed and its citizens conquered by overwhelming force, the series starts to explore what really matters in life—answering the question: what’s worth saving at the end of the world? It’s about sacrificing for your family, and trying to find a way to hold onto culture and hope as everything falls apart.

The story of colonization of Indigenous people is such a key template in science fiction—is it something you think about as you come up with a storyline?

I do think of colonization themes as I write—mainly in the form of testing human adaptability. In a new situation, with new enemies and environments, how adaptable can humankind become in order to survive? Robopocalypse shows Osage characters who first accept a Cherokee soldier into their army, and then any human who wants to fight, and then humans who have been modified by the robots, and finally they are willing to accept friendly robots. As we’ve seen from recent events, human beings are capable of putting aside their differences and uniting together in the face of evil.

Finally—you signed a deal with Brad Pitt’s Plan B company to write a film called Alpha**, and a director has been attached. What’s the progress on that project? Is this your first time writing a feature film?**

I’m excited to be scripting Alpha for Lionsgate and Plan B. I have written two other feature screenplays for studios (and many more speculative scripts that have gone unsold), so I’m comfortable with the challenge and looking forward to the process. What can I say? I love my job!

For more information about Wilson and his creations, visit his official site, danielhwilson.com.

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