Most artificial intelligence in books is very similar to human intelligence, but with perfect memory and incredibly fast speed of thought. My guess is that, in reality, true artificial intelligence will feel completely alien to us. If that happens, then the first contact with an alien intelligence will happen with an alien we’ve created.
In a narrative that spans geography and time, from the Atlantic Ocean in the seventeenth century, to a correctional institute in Texas in the near future, and told from the perspectives of five very different characters, Speak considers what it means to be human, and what it means to be less than fully alive.
A young Puritan woman travels to the New World with her unwanted new husband. Alan Turing, the renowned mathematician and code breaker, writes letters to his best friend’s mother. A Jewish refugee and professor of computer science struggles to reconnect with his increasingly detached wife. An isolated and traumatized young girl exchanges messages with an intelligent software program. A former Silicon Valley Wunderkind is imprisoned for creating illegal lifelike dolls.
Though each speaks from a distinct place and moment in time, all five characters share the need to express themselves while simultaneously wondering if they will ever be heard, or understood.
“Stunning and audacious… It’s not just one of the smartest books of the year, it’s one of the most beautiful ones, and it almost seems like an understatement to call it a masterpiece.”
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…
A unique anthology of all-new stories that challenges authors to throw down the gauntlet in an epic genre battle and demands an answer to the age-old question: Who is more awesome—robots or fairies?
Featuring an incredible line-up of authors including John Scalzi, Catherynne M. Valente, Ken Liu, Max Gladstone, Alyssa Wong, Jonathan Maberry, and many more, Robots vs. Fairies will take you on a glitter-bombed journey of a techno-fantasy mash-up.
“These lively, action-packed, and emotional tales by the best writers in sf/fantasy allow readers to root for their favorite team or discover new pleasures in an unfamiliar genre…Exceptional storytelling and well-paced writing make this volume a total delight.”
Bob Johansson has just sold his software company and is looking forward to a life of leisure. There are places to go, books to read, and movies to watch. So it’s a little unfair when he gets himself killed crossing the street.
Bob wakes up a century later to find that corpsicles have been declared to be without rights, and he is now the property of the state. He has been uploaded into computer hardware and is slated to be the controlling AI in an interstellar probe looking for habitable planets. The stakes are high: no less than the first claim to entire worlds. If he declines the honor, he’ll be switched off, and they’ll try again with someone else. If he accepts, he becomes a prime target. There are at least three other countries trying to get their own probes launched first, and they play dirty.
The safest place for Bob is in space, heading away from Earth at top speed. Or so he thinks. Because the universe is full of nasties, and trespassers make them mad—very mad.
Winner of Audible’s 2016 Best of Science Fiction.
Winner of the Hugo Award for Best Series (Wayfarers)
Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in a new body, following a total system shutdown and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.
Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.
Book 1 of 17(!) in the EarthCent Ambassador series
Kelly Frank is EarthCent’s top diplomat on Union Station, but her job description has always been a bit vague. The pay is horrible and she’s in hock up to her ears for her furniture, which is likely to end up in a corridor because she’s behind on rent for her room. Sometimes she has to wonder if the career she has put ahead of her personal life for fifteen years is worth it.
When Kelly receives a gift subscription to the dating service that’s rumored to be powered by the same benevolent artificial intelligence that runs the huge station, she decides to swallow her pride and give it a shot. But as her dates go from bad to worse, she can only hope that the supposedly omniscient AI is planning a happy ending.
(Do not judge this book by its cover.)
Ten thousand years in the future, Phaethon of Radamanthus House, is attending a glorious party at his family mansion to celebrate the thousand-year anniversary of the High Transcendence. There he meets first an old man who accuses him of being an impostor and then a being from Neptune claims to be an old friend. The Neptunian tells him that essential parts of his memory were removed and stored by the very government that Phaethon believes to be wholly honorable. It shakes his faith. He is an exile from himself.
And so Phaethon embarks upon a quest across the transformed solar system—Jupiter is now a second sun, Mars and Venus terraformed, humanity immortal. He is among humans, intelligent machines, and bizarre life forms that are partly both. He yearns to recover his memory, to learn what crime he planned that warranted such preemptive punishment, and, in short, regain his true identity.
“[D]azzling first novel.”
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.
“You’re swept away against your will. . . . A riveting page turner.”
In Los Angeles in 2047, advances in the science of psychology have made crime a rare occurrence. So it’s utterly shocking when eight bodies are detected in an apartment, and not long afterward the perpetrator is revealed as well: noted poet Emmanuel Goldsmith. The LAPD’s Mary Choy—who has had both her appearance and her police work enhanced by nanotechnology—is tasked with arresting the killer, while psychotherapy pioneer Martin Burke prepares to explore his mind. Meanwhile, Goldsmith’s good friend and fellow writer reels at the news—while, far from all of them, a space probe makes a startling discovery.
“[S]ucceeds on virtually every level.”
—The New York Times Book Review
When the obituary of legendary computer game architect Matthew Sobol appears online, a previously dormant daemon (a computer program that runs in the background) 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)
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 are 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.
Author Alastair Reynolds isn’t afraid of big, strange ideas, and he puts on a parade of them in House of Suns.
Six million years ago, a woman named Abigail Gentian fractured her consciousness into a thousand different clones, called shatterlings. Since then, the shatterlings have observed the rise and fall of many human civilizations. Nearly immortal, they meet every two hundred thousand years to share memories.
Except now, someone is wiping out all of the Gentian shatterlings. It’s up to Campion and Purslane—two shatterlings—to figure out who or what is trying to kill them.
House of Suns is imaginative, fun, and well-paced, but a little thin on character development. The book’s more about far-future coolness than fully-developed characters.
(I don’t want to give away the part about A.I., but it’s there.)
What’s the best way to create artificial intelligence? In 1950, Alan Turing wrote, ‘Many people think that a very abstract activity, like the playing of chess, would be best. It can also be maintained that it is best to provide the machine with the best sense organs that money can buy, and then teach it to understand and speak English. This process could follow the normal teaching of a child. Things would be pointed out and named, etc. Again I do not know what the right answer is, but I think both approaches should be tried.’
The first approach has been tried many times in both science fiction and reality. In this new novella (at over 30,000 words, his longest work to date), Ted Chiang offers a detailed imagining of how the second approach might work within the contemporary landscape of startup companies, massively-multiplayer online gaming, and open-source software. It’s a story of two people and the artificial intelligences they helped create, following them for more than a decade as they deal with the upgrades and obsolescence that are inevitable in the world of software. At the same time, it’s an examination of the difference between processing power and intelligence, and of what it means to have a real relationship with an artificial entity.
“[A] very rare thing: a science fictional novel of ideas that delivers a real human impact.”
Winner of the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella
In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. For their own safety, exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied droid—a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.
“[R]eading about this sulky, soap-opera-loving cyborg killing machine might be one of the most human experiences you can have in sci-fi right now.”
Decades into our future, a stone’s throw from the ancient city of Shanghai, a brilliant nanotechnologist named John Percival Hackworth has just broken the rigorous moral code of his tribe, the powerful neo-Victorians. He’s made an illicit copy of a state-of-the-art interactive device called A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. Commissioned by an eccentric duke for his grandchild, stolen for Hackworth’s own daughter, the Primer’s purpose is to educate and raise a girl capable of thinking for herself. It performs its function superbly. Unfortunately for Hackworth, his smuggled copy has fallen into the wrong hands.
Young Nell and her brother Harv are thetes—members of the poor, tribeless class. Neglected by their mother, Harv looks after Nell. When he and his gang waylay a certain neo-Victorian—John Percival Hackworth—in the seamy streets of their neighborhood, Harv brings Nell something special: the Primer.
Following the discovery of his crime, Hackworth begins an odyssey of his own. Expelled from the neo-Victorian paradise, squeezed by agents of Protocol Enforcement on one side and a Mandarin underworld crime lord on the other, he searches for an elusive figure known as the Alchemist. His quest and Nell’s will ultimately lead them to another seeker whose fate is bound up with the Primer—a woman who holds the key to a vast, subversive information network that is destined to decode and reprogram the future of humanity.
“[I]n The Diamond Age the wonders of cyberspace pale before the even more dazzling powers of nanotechnology.”
—New York Times Book Review
Winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Awards
Case was the sharpest data-thief in the matrix—until he crossed the wrong people and they crippled his nervous system, banishing him from cyberspace. Now a mysterious new employer has recruited him for a last-chance run at an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, a mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case is ready for the adventure that upped the ante on an entire genre of fiction.
“A revolutionary novel.”
Widely acknowledged as one of Robert A. Heinlein’s greatest works, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress rose from the golden age of science fiction to become an undisputed classic and a touchstone for the philosophy of personal responsibility and political freedom. A revolution on a lunar penal colony—aided by a self-aware supercomputer—provides the framework for a story of a diverse group of men and women grappling with the ever-changing definitions of humanity, technology, and free will: themes that resonate just as strongly today as they did when the novel was first published.
“Offers a lot of food for thought and fodder for argument…indisputably rich with ideas.”
I, Robot, the first and most widely read book in Asimov’s Robot series, forever changed the world’s perception of artificial intelligence. Here are short stories of robots gone mad, of mind-reading robots, and robots with a sense of humor. Of robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world—all told with the dramatic blend of science fact and science fiction that has become Asimov’s trademark.
The Three Laws of Robotics:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
With these three, simple directives, Isaac Asimov formulated the laws governing robots’ behavior. In I, Robot, Asimov chronicles the development of the robot from its primitive origins in the present to its ultimate perfection in the not-so-distant future—a future in which humanity itself may be rendered obsolete.
“A must-read for science-fiction buffs and literature enjoyers alike.”
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.
Excession is the fifth book in Banks’s excellent Culture series.
Two and a half millennia ago, the artifact appeared in a remote corner of space, beside a trillion-year-old dying sun from a different universe. It was a perfect black-body sphere, and it did nothing. Then it disappeared.
Now it is back.
“Banks has created one of the most enduring and endearing visions of the future.”
—The Guardian on the Culture series
After finishing most books, I’ll put them down and think something like, “That was a good book,” or “The ending was terrible,” or “I’m hungry.”
But with The Ware Tetralogy, I put the big book down and wondered what the hell just happened to me.
My horizons got expanded in weird directions and there’s a little more odd joy in my life.
The four Ware novels (Software, Wetware, Freeware, and Realware) explore consciousness as an information pattern in a fearlessly absurd, awesomely readable way. All together, they’re a Dadaist cyberpunk tour de force that’ll make your brain feel like it’s in a bath of seltzer water. The books all move like a bat out of hell, are packed with enough ideas for forty normal science fictions books, and you can feel beat poetry in the background as you read them.
Few science fiction books can claim to use the same structure as The Canterbury Tales and still be kick-ass sci-fi, but Hyperion pulls it off.
On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope—and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.
“Dan Simmons has brilliantly conceptualized a future 700 years distant. In sheer scope and complexity it matches, and perhaps even surpasses, those of Isaac Asimov and James Blish.”
—The Washington Post Book World
Accelerando made me afraid that the future’s going to tear us all a new one.
It’s dense, and author Charles Stross presents enough throwaway ideas for at least a dozen other novels.
Accelerando follows the adventures of three generations as they experience the world just before the technological singularity, during it, and just after.
(The technological singularity is the point where an artificial intelligence begins to create a runaway chain reaction of improving itself, with each iteration becoming more intelligent. Eventually, it is vastly superior to any human intelligence. Is that something to worry about? Maybe. Stephen Hawking once said, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”)
The book is deeply technical in spots, which is fun, but still has good characters you root for (or despise).
You still can’t beat HAL.
This allegory about humanity’s exploration of the universe—and the universe’s reaction to humanity—is a hallmark achievement in storytelling that follows the crew of the spacecraft Discovery as they embark on a mission to Saturn. Their vessel is controlled by HAL 9000, an artificially intelligent supercomputer capable of the highest level of cognitive functioning that rivals—and perhaps threatens—the human mind.
“Dazzling…wrenching…a mind bender.”