Gearheads By Brad Stone

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Gearheads: The Turbulent Rise of Robotic Sports By Brad Stone


Book/Novel Author: Brad Stone

Book/Novel Title: Gearheads

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In the early nineties, a visionary special-effects guru named Marc Thorpe conjured a field of dreams different from any the world had seen before: It would be framed by unbreakable plastic instead of cornstalks; populated not by ghostly ballplayers but by remote-controlled robots, armed to the steely teeth, fighting in a booby-trapped ring. If you built it, they’d come all right….
In *Gearheads, Newsweek* technology correspondent Brad Stone examines the history of robotic sports, from their cultish early years at universities and sci-fi conventions to today’s televised extravaganzas — and the turmoil that threatened the whole enterprise almost from the beginning.
By turns a lively historical narrative, a legal thriller, and an exploration of a cultural and technological phenomenon, *Gearheads* is a funny and fascinating look at the sport of the future today. **
### Review
*Newsweek* reporter Brad Stone set out to chronicle the brief history of robotic sports, a genre peopled by a disparate range of mechanical compulsives spanning the education-driven idealism of Segway Human Transporter inventor Dean Kamen to the willfully enigmatic Mark Pauline’s anarchic Survival Research Laboratories. But Stone’s straightforward reporting quickly focuses on the tormented tale of Parkinson’s afflicted, former ILM animator Marc Thorpe and his struggles to transform his obsession with battling machines into bona fide sport, efforts we learn have directly spawned such cult cable TV fare as *Robot Wars* , *Battle Bots* , and *Robotica* and made unlikely pop-culture heroes of its motley, proud band of mechanized warrior engineers. Thorpe’s effusive mix of enthusiasm and naivete are at once his salvation and downfall, especially after he finds himself yoked financially with Priority Records founder Steve Plotnicki, an executive the author portrays as never meeting a business partner he didn’t like to sue, and repeatedly. Thus framed, what emerges is as much cautionary tale about the seemingly limitless bounds of human pettiness and the nettlesome business of copyrighting, branding, and marketing mass-media entertainment as it is hagiography of the gearheads and their beloved gladiators. Lawyers and lawsuits seem to dominate every third page, often overshadowing the exploits of legendary ‘bots such as Biohazard and Blendo, and increasingly making the aloofness of gearhead godfathers Pauline and Kamen seem like so much common sense. *–Jerry McCulley*
### From Publishers Weekly
Casual fans of Comedy Central’s Battlebots (fights between human-size robots) will be shocked at the Machiavellian intrigue behind the scenes of the radio-controlled robotic warfare. Newsweek journalist Stone’s original and surprisingly engaging account of the rise of “robotic sport” depicts a world hardly anyone not passionate about these gladiatorial gear fests would have ever suspected. And yet all the elements of a taut thriller (or pro wrestling championship) are here: paranoid geeks, rabid lawyers, killer machines, violent threats worthy of Belfast paramilitaries, and the startling revelation that kids who go to MIT are just as devious and twisted as the rest of us. Even the guy who destroyed Run-DMC’s career puts in a key appearance. Stone manages to find the universal elements in a story most people not intimately familiar with Robot Wars can appreciate, and he lets those elements do the heavy lifting. Let the gear heads worry about gyroscopes and such: the real entertainment for the rest of us is the conniving and betrayal. The layperson will be fascinated not so much by engine technology as by the unique opportunity to watch a sport in its nascent stages develop rapidly from slightly obsessive leisure pursuit to corporate entertainment industry. Stone phrases his tale within a context accessible to all readers, with plenty for the genuine propeller heads to chew on as well.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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