C. Robert Cargill's just-published science-fiction novel Day Zero hinges on the relationship between a boy named Ezra and his tiger-resembling "nannybot," Pounce.
"It's the eve of the robot revolution," the author and Doctor Strange co-writer, 45, tells EW. "When everything hits the fan, it's up to a nannybot to decide whether he wants to join the revolution or protect the boy he loves."
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The book is a standalone prequel to Cargill's 2017 novel Sea of Rust, which is set some time after the robot apocalypse. The author was convinced to return to the universe by fellow writer Joe Hill.
"We were having drinks, and he asked me when I was going to write another Sea of Rust book," says Cargill, whose writing credits also include coauthoring the screenplay for the 2016 Marvel movie Doctor Strange. "I was like, I'd like to, but I don't know if that's in the cards. I do have this one idea for a novella. I pitched him Day Zero and he said, 'That's your next book.'"
Day Zero is a tip of a hat to the late science fiction writer Harlan Ellison, whose tale A Boy and His Dog found a character named Vic and his telepathic canine partner Blood attempting to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Cargill got to know Ellison when he and Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson signed on to turn the Ellison-written Outer Limits episode "Demon With a Glass Hand" into a movie.
"The big deal was announced and nobody had told Harlan," says Cargill. "Harlan immediately hit all of the [web] boards he was frequently on and goes, 'Who the hell is C. Robert Cargill?' Three different friends reached out to me on the same Saturday morning and said, 'Ah, Harlan Ellison is looking for you. He seems kind of pissed.'"
Although the film was never made, the pair became friendly.
"He was someone whose work I looked up to for so long," says Cargill of Ellison, who died in 2018. "He was such a wonderful, wonderful man. He was always afraid of being forgotten, that he was going to be a footnote to everyone else's career. I felt that this book should be dedicated to him [so that I can] talk about the awesomeness of his body of work. I love Harlan's story. It's no coincidence that Day Zero hints at A Boy and His Dog."
Cargill reveals that he would like to return again to his world of killer robots.
"I have some ideas that are percolating right now," he says. "I have really grown fond of writing in that world and playing with those characters. There's other stuff that I'd like to do there."