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.

bookIn 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. Stone surveys robotic combat’s evolution, profiling the obsessive, brilliant builders; their ingenious, fearsome, often witty creations; and recounts the bitter power struggle between Thorpe and the record executive whose company financed the sport – a battle that pitted true belief in one corner and profitability in the other, and destroyed much more than just robots.

Of Gearheads, Kirkus Reviews says the events described in the book “may be emblematic of our civilization.” Publisher’s Weekly says that “all the elements of a taut thriller are here.” Wired magazine says, “the book moves fast and offers high-rpm clashes. A lawsuit-slinging exec reduces Robot Wars founder Marc Thorpe to financial ruin, and supergeek Dean Kamen weighs in with dismay as cash and TV deals go to Segway’s crude cousins. Still, the robots multiply, undeterred by human frailty. ”

By turns a lively historical narrative, a legal thriller, and exploration of a cultural and technological phenomenon, Gearheads is a funny and fascinating look at the sport of the future today.