Six Great Stories about Robots, Humans and Alien Life, and AI
The Robot Books
I love a good artificial intelligence- or robot-focused story, and these six (plus, in several cases, their sequels) really captivated me.
Have you read any of these books? I'd love to hear what you thought! Which other books should I add to my to-read robot book list? (Yes, I did say that out loud and heard how gloriously nerdy that sounded.)
01 The Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells
I've read five of the six books in Martha Wells's Murderbot Diaries series, and three more books are planned (yay!).
The first four in the series are novellas; Network Effect is the fifth book (and the first full-length book) in the set, and I haven't yet read Fugitive Telemetry, which was published this past spring.
SecUnit is a fantastic main character; it's grumpily and charmingly obsessed with keeping its people safe and with not being touched or talked to about feelings. It gleans tips about holding conversations and functioning around others by watching its favorite show, The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon; it befriends other AI beings; it's constantly and cleverly problem-solving; it sulks and likes to veg out with its media; and it grudgingly becomes attached to certain humans in its orbit.
The Murderbot series is funny and poignant and odd and wonderful.
02 Goddess in the Machine by Lora Beth Johnson
This story features supporting AI and robot characters in an intriguing futuristic setting. Lora Beth Johnson hooked me immediately with the premise of Goddess in the Machine and with main protagonist Andra's voice.
Teenage Andra wakes up after being cryogenically preserved for a century-long journey to a new planet. She's a little creaky and sore, sure, but she's ready to be reunited with the team, which includes her mother and the rest of her family, plus many others involved in the complex project. They'll begin the work of bravely populating and building a society on this new planet.
Except...Andra soon realizes she wasn't sleeping for 100 years. She was asleep for 1,000. The people, terrain, and language are not what she studied for or expected, everyone she once knew has already lived and died--oh, and the general population, whoever they are, thinks she's a goddess, and they've been waiting excitedly for her to wake up and save them.
There's a twist/double twist I didn't see coming, and I found the whole story compelling. For my full review, please see Goddess in the Machine. The sequel, Devil in the Device, is set for publication in August 2021.
03 Machinehood by S.B. Divya
In her debut novel, Divya sets the scene in the world of 2095. Humanity around the world is reliant on homemade and commercially manufactured pills--for health, for work focus, for managing bots, for healing, for sleep, and for transitioning between all of the above.
The economy runs on robots, partially augmented humans, and humans desperately trying to compete with artificial intelligence and survive in the gig economy.
Space! Robots! Artificial intelligence! I wished for more page time spent on everyday tasks and activities (cooking, shifting household modules, travel, and communicating), which were all carried out in Jetsons-level, fascinating, futuristic ways. But Divya is too busy crafting strong female main protagonists (complete with working mother guilt, which exists in the future too) as they: navigate ethical considerations such as pressures on workers and workload expectations; consider modifications to the body to enable faster or more strenuous work; manage the implications of a backlash against artificial enhancements; and face society's inability to extricate itself and the worldwide economy from a reliance on pills.
The management of many large-scale issues and their side effects are shown in shades of gray rather than black-and-white, including the meaning and value of personhood; the definitions of health, autonomy, and freedom; sometimes-necessary compromises; and the promise for the future of the world.
For my full review of this book, please see Machinehood.
04 Skyhunter by Marie Lu
Skyhunter's on this list because of the augmented humans in the book. Lu offers a story about refugees desperately trying to escape becoming conscripted into the Federation army; elite Striker fighters trying to salvage their society despite the Federation's widespread and evil efforts; and the demonization of the "other."
A mysterious prisoner from the front arrives who could be friend or foe, and our main protagonist Talin must figure out whether to destroy him or trust him with her life--before things unravel irrevocably for her and her fellow warriors.
The surprising ending made my heart stop. Then I remembered that this was the first in a series and that the story would continue past the final complications and shocking events, so I did not hurl the book through the window.
There's complex motivation here, as well as clashes between idealism and realism and editorialization about class and race--plenty of substance and depth to make it feel like a book for adults rather than necessarily a young adult title.
The sequel is set for publication in September 2021. For my full review of this book, please see Skyhunter.
05 An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
Green's An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a gloriously oddball book with lots of heart.
In the middle of the night on a New York City street, April and her friend Andy stumble across something truly weird--a giant metal soldier sculpture that reminds them of a samurai. They happily record a video with the sculpture, which they call Carl, and upload it to YouTube.
The next day, the world is changed. Carls have cropped up in cities throughout the world. What is the meaning of these robotlike creatures? Are they neutral, are they sinister, or might they be here to save humanity?
The faulted character of April May was wonderful, and I was fascinated by the way her actions and hopes allowed a peek into a fame- and attention-seeking existence. Also: Robin! And: Carl—!
06 Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1) by Sylvain Neuvel
A girl named Rose in rural South Dakota falls into a hole that has intricate carvings covering the walls and wakes up in the palm of an enormous robot hand. Where did it come from? What do the carvings mean? What is the purpose of any of this?
Years later Rose is a world-renowned physicist working to unlock the secrets of the hand and the curious artifacts, but the mysteries persist.
The interview structure keeps the characters at a distance from the reader, yet Neuvel allows their spoken-only participation in the book to express their growth, hopes, and fears.
The characters are relating events that have already happened through the lenses of their own points of view, creating the potential for unreliable narrators, characters who are hiding important information, and many resulting twists and turns. Neuvel explores concepts of personal responsibility, how the possibility of life beyond Earth affects everything, and how manipulation and observation--potentially by other beings in the solar system--shape behavior. Also: the ending--!
The next books in this series are Waking Gods and Only Human, and I liked them both.