Because robots are so cool, but why? It’s possible that we’re just narcissists who want to see copies of ourselves. The question is whether or not we want to erase the line between human and machine just because we are curious. Maybe we’re afraid of what someone much stronger or smarter than us could do to us.
A lot of the time, the answer is going to be “yes.”
The word “robot” comes from the Czech word “robota,” which means having to do something. It was first shown in the play R.U.R. by Karel apek in 1920, which makes me think I’ve never seen a science fiction play before. I’m including artificial intelligences in this list, like 2001’s HAL, because they make me think of creepy or cool robots that move around a lot more.
2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke – 1968
2001 was made at the same time as Stanley Kubrick’s movie version. It was released after the movie came out. Clarke and Kubrick worked on the book together, but only Clarke was the real author.
The robot in this picture is HAL, the computer on the spaceship Discovery One, which has a lot of space. It’s possible to say that HAL is a robot because he can control hardware, like the spaceship. This means that the whole spaceship is his body. HAL and the alien monolith in 2001 are two of the best things in science fiction, along with Asimov’s psychohistory and Herbert’s planet Dune, which are both very good.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer – 2012
Cinder, the first book by author Meyer, is a darkly subversive retelling of Cinderella, with Cinder being a cyborg. Because the cover says “Twilight with robots,” this isn’t a book I’d usually read. But the reviews are so good that I think it’s worth a read.
If you like Cinderella, you’ll like this futuristic version of the story. Readers will enjoy spotting the little similarities. But Meyer’s real talent is taking the story into a whole new, thrilling world.
Publishers Weekly: – (starred review)
Cyborg by Martin Caidin – 1972
All but one of Steve Austin’s limbs were destroyed in a plane crash in the movie Cyborg. He lost one eye and was left with many other major injuries after the crash. There was a TV show called “The Six Million Dollar Man” that made this story more well-known.
The first half of the book is about Austin’s surgery and how he reacts to both his original injuries (he tries to kill himself) and how he initially resents being rebuilt with bionics. The second is a kind of spy adventure that is usually linked to Steve Austin.
Daemon by Daniel Suarez – 2006
Daemon and FreedomTM are two parts of a two-part novel about a computer program called The Daemon that starts to change the world after its creator dies. It corrupts, kills, and runs on its own without being controlled by humans. Before the evil virtual enemy can do what it wants to do: dismantle society and set up a new world order, Detective Peter Sebeck has to get the world back from the bad guy.
…a great gift for a computer fanatic or anyone who likes thrills, chills, and suspense in the computer world.
Magazine: -Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick – 1968
If you want to see a movie version of this story, you should watch Blade Runner.
The main character is Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who has to “retire,” or blow up, six escaped Nexus-6 brain model androids, the most advanced model. A secondary character is John Isidore, a man with a low IQ who helps the escaped androids. In connection with Deckard’s mission, the novel looks into the question of what it means to be human. Unlike humans, the androids don’t have a sense of empathy. Deckard is trying to find out if there are things that make humans and androids different.
Excession by Iain M. Banks – 1996
The book is mostly about how Minds (AIs that have a lot of power and unique personalities) react to the Excession (a mysterious alien artifact), and how a brutal society tries to use the Excession to become more powerful.
Diplomat Byr Genar-Hofoen has been chosen by the Culture to carry out a delicate and dangerous task. To solve a 2,500-year-old mystery: the sudden disappearance of a star 50 times older than the universe itself. The Department of Special Circumstances, the Culture’s espionage and dirty tricks department, has sent him to look into it. It’s possible that Byr could lose himself in his search for the sun’s secret.
He, She and It by Marge Piercy – 1991
If you want to read a book that’s good at science fiction, you’ll want to read “He, She, and It.” It’s a book that won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best science fiction in the UK.
The author Piercy talks about gender roles, human identity, politics, environmentalism, love, Jewish mysticism, and more, which isn’t usually found in SF books like this one. The women in this book are strong, well-developed characters, but the men in it seem to be naive and cold. Perhaps some table-turning is needed, given how women have been treated in SF over the years. They’ve been damsels in distress you’ve had to explain things to.
I, Robot by Isac Asimov – 1950
Isaac Asimov wanted to call this set of nine short stories Mind and Iron because “I, Robot” was the title of short story written by someone else (Eando Binder, the pseudonym of Earl and Otto Binder). He initially objected when the publisher made the title the same as Binder’s story.
I, Robot explores the relationship between robots and people, and contains some of Asimov’s best writing, including the creation of the Three Laws of Robotics. In 2004, the Saturday Evening Post claimed that the Three Laws “revolutionized the science fiction genre and made robots far more interesting than they ever had been before.”
Ilium by Dan Simmons – 2003
When the Iliad happens again on an alternate Earth and Mars, the first part of the Ilium/Olympos cycle is called Ilium. Ilium is the first part of this cycle.
On Earth, a small group of the few remaining humans search for a lost past and a devastating truth as four sentient machines leave Jovian space to look into, or maybe kill, the potentially dangerous emissions coming from a mountaintop miles above the terraformed surface of the Red Planet.
Notice that the title does not refer to the ilium, which is the uppermost and largest bone in the pelvis. It is found in most vertebrates, but not in bony fish.
Mockingbird by Walter Tevis – 1980
Before long, Tevis noticed that the level of literacy among his students at Ohio University was dropping at a rapid pace. “That thought came up and inspired him to write this book, which takes place in the 25th century in New York City. There aren’t many people left, no one can read, and robots rule over the drugged and illiterate humans.”
It’s a world that doesn’t have art, reading, or kids. People would rather die than live in this world. Even Spofforth, the best machine ever made, can’t stand it. He wants only what he can’t have, which is to stop being alive.