Creating robots that are stronger, faster, and can think millions of times faster than us seems to be a guaranteed way to manufacture our future overlords. But my time as a computer programmer makes me less worried: software, no matter how well written, always seemed to break at some point. The reality of the world is just too messy. So while the robot uprising might happen, there’s a chance they’ll end up tripping over their own feet and give us grungy humans a shot at regaining the world.
This collection of short stories focuses on what robots can do better than humans. War with the Robots is a solid, early look at man losing the man vs. machine war.
Ten thousand years before the events of Dune, humans have managed to battle the remorseless Machines to a standstill… but victory may be short-lived. Yet amid shortsighted squabbling between nobles, new leaders have begun to emerge. Among them are Xavier Harkonnen, military leader of the Planet of Salusa Secundus; Xavier’s fiancée, Serena Butler, an activist who will become the unwilling leader of millions; and Tio Holtzman, the scientist struggling to devise a weapon that will help the human cause. Against the brute efficiency of their adversaries, these leaders and the human race have only imagination, compassion, and the capacity for love. Will it be enough?
“[O]offers the kind of intricate plotting and philosophical musings that would make the elder Herbert proud.”
— Publishers Weekly
Ancillary Justice is more a Single-AI-uprising tale than a full all-robots-fight-humans story.
The Justice of Toren was a colossal starship run by an artificial intelligence. That intelligence also linked thousands of human soldiers, each soldier’s mind completely run by the AI. These AI-run soldiers were known as ancillaries.
In an act of treachery, the Justice of Toren is destroyed, and the AI—now going by the name of Breq—is a single human body filled with unanswered questions and a burning desire for vengeance.
Ancillary Justice is the only novel ever to win the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. Newspapers nationwide heaped praise on it.
And you know what? It’s a really good book. Clever, fun, inventive, occasionally shocking, and overall a great read with fascinating characters. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.
However, I was disappointed because all that praise made me think was going to be one of the most amazing science fiction books ever written, and that my life would be fundamentally different after reading it. It was good, but it wasn’t that good.
So, just make sure your expectations are a little more realistic than mine were, and you’ll probably love Ancillary Justice.
Stross has said that Saturn’s Children is “a space opera and late-period [Robert A.] Heinlein tribute.”
Sometime in the twenty-third century, humanity went extinct, leaving only androids behind to fulfill humanity’s dreams. And, having learned well from their long-dead masters, they’ve established a hierarchical society—one with humanoid aristo rulers at the top and slave-chipped workers at the bottom, performing the lowly tasks all androids were originally created to do.
Designed as a concubine for a species that hasn’t existed for two hundred years, femmebot Freya Nakamichi-47—one of the last of her kind still functioning—accepts a job from a stranger to deliver a package from mercury to Mars. Unfortunately, she’s just made herself a moving target for some very powerful, very determined humanoids desperate to retrieve the package’s contents…
“One of the most stylishly imaginative robot tales ever penned.”
On the far planet Wing IV, a brilliant scientist creates the humanoids—sleek, black androids programmed to serve humanity. Slowly the humanoids spread throughout the galaxy, threatening to stifle all human endeavors. Only a hidden group of rebels can stem the humanoid tide… if it’s not already too late.
Since these stories were published in Astounding Science Fiction during the magazine’s heyday in the 1940s, do not expect strong female characters.
“Williamson’s best novel, a classic dystopia and the single best work on robot[s]…outside of the world of Isaac Asimov.”
― Twentieth-Century Science Fiction Writers
A powerful and armed interstellar space ship called Invincible lands on the planet Regis III, which seems uninhabited and bleak, to investigate the loss of her sister ship, Condor. During the investigation, the crew finds evidence of a form of quasi-life, born through evolution of autonomous, self-replicating machines, apparently left behind by an alien civilization ship, which landed a very long time ago.
The protagonists speculate that a kind of evolution must have taken place under the selection pressures of “robot wars,” with the only surviving form being swarms of minuscule, insect-like micromachines. Individually, or in small groups, they are quite harmless and capable of only very simple behavior. When they feel threatened, they can assemble into huge clouds, able to travel at a high speed and even to climb to the top of the troposphere. These swarms display complex behavior arising from self-organization and can incapacitate any intelligent threat by a powerful surge of electromagnetic interference. Condor‘s crew suffered a complete memory erasure as a consequence of attacks from these “clouds.”
How will the crew of the Invincible deal with these living machines?
“Anybody who likes a tight, increasingly tense plot-line rising to a scene of dramatic violence will be satisfied. Anybody who likes a mystery will find it here—and its solution.”
— Ursula K. Le Guin
Personally, I couldn’t get into this book, but a lot of people (including Stephen King) could, so don’t let me sway you.
Author Wilson’s previous book was How to Survive a Robot Uprising, so it makes sense he’d write one about an actual uprising. He also has a fantastic robot pedigree: he has a Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon.
Not far into our future, the dazzling technology that runs our world turns against us. Controlled by a childlike—yet massively powerful—artificial intelligence known as Archos, the global network of machines on which our world has grown dependent suddenly becomes an implacable, deadly foe. At Zero Hour—the moment the robots attack—the human race is almost annihilated, but as its scattered remnants regroup, humanity for the first time unites in a determined effort to fight back. This is the oral history of that conflict, told by an international cast of survivors who experienced this long and bloody confrontation with the machines.
“Richly haunting… Wilson has terrific timing in building a page-turner around the perils of technology’s advance into our lives.”
— Los Angeles Times
Crux is the second book in the Nexus Arc series, so you may want to check out the first book Nexus before diving into this one.
In the United States, the terrorists—or freedom fighters—of the Post-Human Liberation Front use Nexus (a nano-drug that can link human minds together) to turn men and women into human time bombs aimed at the President and his allies. In Washington DC, a government scientist, secretly addicted to Nexus, uncovers more than he wants to know about the forces behind the assassinations, and finds himself in a maze with no way out.
In Thailand, Samantha Cataranes has found peace and contentment with a group of children born with Nexus in their brains. But when forces threaten to tear her new family apart, Sam will stop at absolutely nothing to protect the ones she holds dear.
The first blows in the war between human and posthuman have been struck. The world will never be the same.
“A rich cast of characters… the action scenes are crisp, the glimpses of future tech and culture are mesmerizing.”
— Publishers Weekly
A clone’s wry inner voice propels this tale of a machine uprising with a slightly stale premise: in order to end human wars, the machines have decided to end humanity.
A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone of herself.
Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly: for the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.
Daemons are computer programs that silently run in the background, waiting for a specific event or time to execute. They power almost every service. They make our networked world possible. But they also make it vulnerable…
When the obituary of legendary computer game architect Matthew Sobol appears online, a previously dormant daemon activates, initiating a chain of events that begins to unravel our interconnected world. This daemon reads news headlines, recruits human followers, and orders assassinations. With Sobol’s secrets buried with him, and as new layers of his daemon are unleashed, it’s up to Detective Peter Sebeck to stop a self-replicating virtual killer before it achieves its ultimate purpose—one that goes far beyond anything Sebeck could have imagined…
“A riveting debut.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Including The Windup Girl in this list really stretches the definitions of both robot and uprising, but I still think it belongs here.
Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Undercover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko. Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.
“This complex, literate and intensely felt tale, which recalls both William Gibson and Ian McDonald at their very best, will garner Bacigalupi significant critical attention and is clearly one of the finest science fiction novels of the year.”
— Publishers Weekly
Quick show of hands: how many science fiction plays have you seen? This one introduced the word “robot” to the English language and science fiction in general.
R.U.R. quickly became famous and by 1923, it had been translated into thirty languages.
The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people, called roboti (robots), out of synthetic organic matter. They are not exactly robots by the current definition of the term; these creatures are closer to the modern idea of cyborgs, androids or even clones, as they may be mistaken for humans and can think for themselves. They seem happy to work for humans at first, but that changes…
In this steampunkish tale, Mattie, an intelligent automaton skilled in the use of alchemy, finds herself caught in the middle of a conflict between gargoyles, the Mechanics, and the Alchemists. With the old order quickly giving way to the new, Mattie discovers powerful and dangerous secrets—ones that can completely alter the balance of power in the city of Ayona. This doesn’t sit well with Loharri, the Mechanic who created Mattie and still has the key to her heart—literally.
The wildly popular debut novel from author Meyer, Cinder is a darkly subversive retelling of Cinderella, with Cinder being a cyborg. It’s more of a story of an individual robot rising up, instead of a large-scale robot uprising.
This isn’t a book I would usually look twice at, since the cover suggests “Twilight with Robots,” but the reviews are so universally positive that it’s worth a read.
“[T]his futuristic twist on Cinderella retains just enough of the original that readers will enjoy spotting the subtle similarities. But debut author Meyer’s brilliance is in sending the story into an entirely new, utterly thrilling dimension.”
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)
To all you science fiction writers out there: over his lifetime, Asimov wrote over 470 books, running the gamut from Shakespeare to history to galactic empires and, of course, robots.
2001 was developed concurrently with Stanley Kubrick’s film version and published after the release of the film. Clarke and Kubrick worked on the book together, but eventually only Clarke ended up as the official author.
The robot here is HAL, the computer aboard the spaceship Discovery One. Since he can control hardware, i.e., the spaceship, you could argue that HAL is a robot, with the whole ship being his body.
HAL and the alien monolith in 2001 are two of the best creations of science fiction, alongside Asimov’s psychohistory and Herbert’s planet Dune.
When Ridley Scott made the film Blade Runner, he used a lot of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. But he also threw a lot away. Instead of Harrison Ford’s lonely bounty hunter, Dick’s protagonist is a financially strapped municipal employee with bills to pay and a depressed wife.
There’s also a whole subplot that follows John Isidore, a man of sub-par IQ who aids the fugitive androids.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a much more sober and darker meditation of what it means to be human than the film it inspired.
From the first novel, Software:
It was Cobb Anderson who built the “boppers”—the first robots with real brains. Now, in 2020, Cobb is just another aged “pheezer” with a bad heart, drinking and grooving to old tunes in Florida retirement hell. His “bops” have come a long way, though, rebelling against their subjugation to set up their own society on the moon. And now they’re offering creator Cobb immortality, but at a stiff price: his body, his soul… and his world.
“Rucker’s four Ware novels–Software (1982), Wetware (1988), Freeware (1997), and Realware (2000)–form an extraordinary cyberweird future history with the heft of an epic fantasy novel and the speed of a quantum processor.”
In a post-apocalyptic world, four men and one woman are all that remain of the human race, brought to near extinction by an artificial intelligence. Programmed to wage war on behalf of its creators, the AI became self-aware and turned against all humanity. The five survivors are prisoners, kept alive and subjected to brutal torture by the hateful and sadistic machine in an endless cycle of violence.
Pissing off science fiction writers everywhere, Ellison wrote the story “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” in a single night in 1966, making virtually no changes from the first draft. He won a Hugo award for it, too. Bastard.