How will robots help or hinder us in the future? Maybe fiction has the answers…
Robots are going to take over the world one day, right? We can’t know for sure, but luckily there’s plenty of fiction that imagines the very best, and the very worst, things that robots and AI could do for humanity.
Here are eight books featuring robot and AI characters that will either make you feel hopeful - or a little scared…
I, Robot by Issac Asimov
There are three laws of robotics in Asimov’s world: robots must not injure human beings or cause them to come to harm through inaction; robots must obey orders given by human beings unless they conflict with the first law; robots must protect their own existence as long as that doesn’t conflict with the first or second law. In I, Robot (yes, the Will Smith film was based on this book), Dr Susan Calvin tells a young reporter a series of stories about robots, starting with when robots couldn’t speak. A short book (a collection of short stories, really), if you’re to start somewhere with robot reading, this is the place.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
The first in The Lunar Chronicles series of YA books, Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella. But in this story, Linh Cinder is a cyborg (part human, part robot), living in New Beijing. The countries of the world have reformed themselves into new alliances, and there’s also an evil queen on the moon to contend with. Treated as a second class citizen because she’s a cyborg, Cinder keeps her identity hidden when she meets Prince Kai, but soon finds herself at the centre of a battle to keep a Lunar illness from overtaking the earth’s population. There is a ball, and a wicked stepmother, but this is Cinderella like you’ve never seen it told before.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
This novel follows the crew of the Wayfarer, a patched up ship which makes tunnels in space, as they prepare to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet that their government has just formed an alliance with. The crew is formed of a series of species, including reptilian pilot Sissix, and engineers Kizzy and Jenks. Keeping an eye on them all is Lovelace - Lovey - the ship’s AI, who is more astute and human than most humans. This is a joyous read that also explores identity, politics, race and more.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Leckie’s debut is the winner of the big three awards in science fiction and fantasy writing - the Hugo, the Nebula and the Arthur C. Clarke. Ancillary Justice is the story of a soldier called Breq, who is on a remote, icy planet trying to fulfil a revenge quest she has been on for year. Breq, now in just one human body, was formerly the Justice of Toren, a colossal starship and an AI in multiple bodies controlling thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. This is a big, complicated sci fi epic, but well worth the read (as all those awards’ juries will tell you).
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
You might think this seems a little familiar, and that’s because it was filmed as Blade Runner years ago (and has spawned film sequels), as well as now being made into the television show Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? follows Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter (known as a blade runner) who searches for renegede replicants (a type of android), and dreams of owning a live animal, the ultimate status symbol. When he’s charged with killing six Nexus-6 targets, he knows it’s his chance to make a lot of money. But of course, things are never that easy…
He, She and It by Marge Piercy
From the author of Woman on the Edge of Time is the feminist, speculative novel He, She and It. In the near future, Shira Shipman’s marriage has broken up and her husband has been granted custody of their young son. Shira returns to Tikya, the Jewish town where she grew up, and to her grandmother Malkah, a brilliant programmer. While in Tikya, Shira meets and begins to fall for Yod, an extraordinary man who is actually a cyborg implanted with intelligence and emotions, as well the ability to kill.
(Del Rey, £8.99)
The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho
This novella is set in the 10th court of hell, where spirits wealthy enough to bribe beauraucrats can live comfortable lives. Siew Tsin is married to the richest man in hell, and is happy enough until he brings home a new bride - Yonghua, an artificial woman crafted from terracotta. As she and Siew Tsin grow closer, the mystery of Yonghua’s creation will draw Siew Tsin into a conspiracy where the stakes are high. Although not technically a robot or an AI, Yonghua takes on a number of tropes associated with robots.
(Zen Cho, £1.87)
Frozen by Robin Wasserman
When Lia Kahn wakes up from a horrific accident that almost killed her, she discovers she’s in a body that’s not quite a body - it’s a machine designed to look and feel human, and Lia’s memories have been downloaded into it. Struggling to come to terms with what has happened, Lia tries to return to her old life, but as a “mechanical” she is shut out by her friends and boyfriend. The first in a trilogy, this asks what it means to be human.
(Simon Pulse, £7.45)
Main image: Mohdammed Ali