The Best Modern Artificial Intelligence Science Fiction Books

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 ourselves.


by Neal Shusterman – 2016

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

“Elegant and elegiac, brooding but imbued with gallows humor, Shusterman’s dark tale thrusts realistic, likeable teens into a surreal situation and raises deep philosophic questions. A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning.”
—Kirkus Reviews

by Daniel H. Wilson – 2011

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.

“Terrific page-turning fun.”
—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly

Robots vs. Fairies
Edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe – 2018

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.”
—Library Journal

by Louisa Hall – 2015

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.”

The Golden Age
by John C. Wright – 2002

Ten thousand years in the future, our solar system is an interplanetary utopian society filled with immortal humans. Within the frame of a traditional tale—the one rebel who is unhappy in utopia—Wright spins an elaborate plot filled with suspense and passion.

Phaethon, of Radamanthus House, is attending a glorious party at his family’s mansion to celebrate the thousand-year anniversary of the High Transcendence. There he meets first an old man who accuses Phaethon of being an impostor, and then a being from Neptune who 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—among humans, intelligent machines, and bizarre life forms that are partly both, to recover his memory, and to learn what crime he planned that warranted such preemptive punishment. His quest is to regain his true identity.

—Publishers Weekly

Date Night on Union Station
by E.M. Foner – 2014

Book 1 of 20 (!) 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.)

The Automatic Detective
by A. Lee Martinez – 2008

Even in Empire City, a town where weird science is the hope for tomorrow, it’s hard for a robot to make his way. It’s even harder for a robot named Mack Megaton, a hulking machine designed to bring mankind to its knees. But Mack’s not interested in world domination. He’s just a bot trying to get by, trying to demonstrate that he isn’t just an automated smashing machine, and to earn his citizenship in the process. It should be as easy as crushing a tank for Mack, but some bots just can’t catch a break.

When Mack’s neighbors are kidnapped, Mack sets off on a journey through the dark alleys and gleaming skyscrapers of Empire City. Along the way, he runs afoul of a talking gorilla, a brainy dame, a mutant lowlife, a little green mob boss, and the secret conspiracy at the heart of Empire’s founders—not to mention more trouble than he bargained for. What started out as one missing family becomes a battle for the future of Empire and every citizen that calls her home.

“Martinez tickles the funny bone in this delightful, fast-paced mishmash of SF and hard-boiled detective story… A smart, rocket-fast read with a clever, twisty plot that comes to a satisfying conclusion.”
―Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Alchemy of Stone
by Ekaterina Sedia – 2008

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.

Machines Like Me
by Ian McEwan – 2019

Set in an uncanny alternative 1982 London—where Britain has lost the Falklands War, Margaret Thatcher battles Tony Benn for power, and Alan Turing achieves a breakthrough in artificial intelligence—Machines Like Me portrays two lovers who will be tested beyond their understanding.

Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first generation of synthetic humans. With Miranda’s assistance, he codesigns Adam’s personality. The near-perfect human that emerges is beautiful, strong, and smart—and a love triangle soon forms.

What makes us human—our outward deeds or our inner lives? Could a machine understand the human heart?

“Witty and humane… a retrofuturist family drama that doubles as a cautionary fable about artificial intelligence, consent, and justice.”
—The New Yorker

Silently and Very Fast
by Catherynne M. Valente – 2011

Silently and Very Fast is more poetry than hard sci-fi, as it involves an AI presence in the protagonist’s dreams. The writing, especially in the beginning, is dreamlike, and it takes a while before a reader gets out of the “the hell is going on?” phase.

Neva is dreaming. But she is not alone. A mysterious machine entity called Elefsis haunts her and the members of her family, back through the generations to her great-great grandmother—a gifted computer programmer who changed the world. Together Neva and Elefsis navigate their history and their future, an uneasy, unwilling symbiote. But what they discover in their dreamworld might change them forever.

by Dan Simmons – 2003

The Trojan War rages at the foot of Olympus Mons on Mars—observed and influenced from on high by Zeus and his immortal family—and twenty-first-century professor Thomas Hockenberry is there to play a role in the insidious private wars of vengeful gods and goddesses.

On Earth, a small band of the few remaining humans pursues a lost past and devastating truth—as four sentient machines depart from Jovian space to investigate, perhaps terminate, the potentially catastrophic emissions emanating from a mountaintop miles above the terraformed surface of the Red Planet.

“[Ilium] will leave most readers waiting breathlessly for the next installment…utterly addictive.”
—Kirkus Reviews

A Closed and Common Orbit
by Becky Chambers – 2016
Book 2 of the Hugo Award-winning Wayfarer series

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in a new body, following a total system shut-down 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 Lovelace will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

“As with her amazing debut, the power of Chamber’s second space opera is in her appealing characters… Her protagonists might not all be human, but they possess more humanity than most”
—Library Journal, starred review

We Are Legion (We Are Bob)
by Dennis E. Taylor – 2016

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.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects
by Ted Chiang – 2010

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, 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] triumphant combination of the rigorous extrapolation of artificial intelligence and artificial life… [T]here are enough ideas to fill a lesser author’s trilogy.”
—Charles Stross (author of Accelerando), Publishers Weekly

by Daniel Suarez – 2006

Daemons: 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

Ancillary Justice
by Ann Leckie – 2013

Winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Once, she was the Justice of Toren—a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.


by Charles Stross – 2005

Accelerando moves like a bat out of hell and 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.

The story 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).

“Stross surfs a wave of ideas and information that seems always on the brink of collapsing into incomprehensibility, but never does—a careening plunge through strangeness in which every page contains something to mess with your head.”
—SF Site

8 thoughts on “The Best Modern Artificial Intelligence Science Fiction Books

  1. I have read:
    5. We are Legion (We are Bob) – great book covering hundreds of years
    2. Ancillary Justice (one freaky AI in a clone body)

    I have #7, Illium, in my SBR (strategic book reserve).

  2. “All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, 1)” by Martha Wells

    Book number one of a seven book series of science fiction novellas. I read the well printed and well bound hardcover published by Tor in 2017 that I bought new from Amazon. I purchased the hardcover since it was cheaper than the trade paperback. The first novella in the series won the 2018 Hugo, Nebula, Alex, and Locus awards. The series won the 2021 Hugo for the best series also. Book number seven will be released in September 2023 and is a full length novel.

    Murderbot is a SecUnit, similar to a T-800 Terminator with a cloned and severely modified human head. There is a human brain in there but it is run by the AIs embedded in its genderless torso. There are lungs, there is a blood mixture with a synthetic, there is human skin over the entire body, there is a face. Everything else is machine. Somehow, the blood is enriched with electricity as there is no stomach or intestines. But, there are arteries and veins to keep the skin and brain alive. All of the major arteries and veins have clamps to stop bleeding in case of damage. There is a MedSystem computer with an AI, a HubUnit computer with an AI, and a governor module that can force the SecUnit to follow orders using pain sensors in the brain. It has a energy gun in each arm and several cameras, all directly wired to the brain. The SecUnit can sustain severe damage to everything but the head and still survive.

    Murderbot is a self named SecUnit due to an unfortunate circumstance with 57 miners on a remote moon. It has hacked its governor and no longer allows the governor to give it orders or inflict pain. It prefers to internally watch its 35,000 hours of downloaded media such as episodes of “The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon” and “Lineages of the Sun”. Even though it has a face, it does not like to interface with humans, yes, very introverted. It will follow human orders if it see fit to do so.

    Warning: The violence is graphic and extreme. And this is a series of novellas, not regular length books so the price is quite high to acquire all seven books.

    The author has a website at:

    My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
    Amazon rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars (38,313 reviews)

  3. Post-21st century, Ringo’s “The Hot Gate” (the AI builder ships) would have a place on my list, as would Taylor’s “The Singularity Trap”.

  4. “Robopocalypse” by Daniel H. Wilson

    Book number one of a two book apocalyptic science fiction series. I read the well printed and well bound trade paperback that was published by Vintage in 2012. I have purchased the second book in the series and am reading it now. The author has written several other novels dealing with robot and human interactions.

    In the not so distant future, tens of billions of automated robots roam the Earth, performing the work of their masters, the humans. Lawn mowers, self driving cars, military androids, powered exoskeletons, delivery automatons, hay balers, crop planters, etc. They all have enough intelligence to perform their duties.

    A lone research scientist is working with a massive computer system to create a artificial intelligence in a Faraday Cage. His results to date have all ended in a psychotic entity that wants to kill humans. He named his AI Archos.

    [Ed. Spoilers removed]

    The book is written in the style of the “World War Z” book, many short stories with some continuity across the book. The book was to be made into a movie by Stephen Spielberg but has been shelved for now. Michael Bay has apparently taken it on now but nothing is happening.

    The author has a website at:

    Hat tip to Dan Livingston as this book was on one of his lists.

    My rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars
    Amazon rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars (2,702 reviews)

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