Ever since Frankenstein, humans have been fascinated by the concept of artificial intelligence. And over the years, sci-fi stories with robots and cyborgs became an excellent sounding board for questions of humanity vs machinery. Where is the line between human and robot? As robots become increasingly sophisticated, will Asimov’s Three Laws still be a thing? Or will they go all T-1000 on us? We’ve rounded up a fun (but by no means complete!) list of books that explore all the aspects of robot life: from noir-style detectives to steampunk adventures, from sexbots who have just changed careers to cyborg Philip K. Dicks, we’re sure you’ll find some new robot friends below.
All of these titles can be found in the Tor Store on iBooks!
Made to Kill—Adam Christopher
Raymond Electromatic is good at his job, as good as he ever was at being a true Private Investigator, the lone employee of the Electromatic Detective Agency–except for Ada, office gal and super-computer, the constant voice in Ray’s inner ear. Ray might have taken up a new line of work, but money is money, after all, and he was programmed to make a profit. Besides, with his twenty-four-hour memory-tape limits, he sure can keep a secret.
When a familiar-looking woman arrives at the agency wanting to hire Ray to find a missing movie star, he’s inclined to tell her to take a hike. But she had the cold hard cash, a demand for total anonymity, and tendency to vanish on her own. Plunged into a glittering world of fame, fortune, and secrecy, Ray uncovers a sinister plot that goes much deeper than the silver screen–and this robot is at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
R. U. R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots)—Karel Čapek
Written in 1920, R.U.R. is one of the earliest pieces of modern science fiction. It garnered worldwide acclaim for its author, Karel Čapek, and popularized the word “Robot,” which was derived from the Czech word “robota”— drudgery and hard work. Mass produced, efficient, and servile labor, the robots remember everything, but lack creative thought, and the Utopian life they provide ultimately lacks meaning. When the robots revolt, killing all but one of their masters, they must attempt to learn the secret of self-duplication. But their attempts at replication leave them with nothing but bloody chunks of meat. It is not until two robots fall in love and are christened “Adam” and “Eve” by the last surviving human that Nature emerges triumphant.
Beyond Human: Living with Robots and Cyborgs—Gregory Benford & Elisabeth Malartre
Concepts once purely fiction—like robots, cyborg parts, and artificial intelligences—are becoming part of everyday reality. Soon robots will be everywhere, performing surgery, exploring hazardous places, making rescues, fighting fires, handling heavy goods. After a decade or two, they will be as unremarkable as the computer screen is now in offices, airports or restaurants.
Cyborgs will be less obvious. These additions to the human body are interior now, as rebuilt joints, elbows and hearts. Soon we will cross the line between repair and augmentation, probably first in sports medicine, then spreading to everyone who wants to make a body perform better, last longer, than it ordinarily could. Controversy will arise, but it will not stop the desire to live longer and be stronger than we are.
This book treats the landscape of human self-change and robotic development as poles of the same general phenomenon.
Expiration Day—William Campbell Powell
It is the year 2049, and humanity is on the brink of extinction. Tania Deeley has always been told that she’s a rarity: a human child in a world where most children are sophisticated androids manufactured by Oxted Corporation. When a decline in global fertility ensued, it was the creation of these near-perfect human copies called teknoids that helped to prevent the utter collapse of society.
Though she has always been aware of the existence of teknoids, it is not until her first day at The Lady Maud High School for Girls that Tania realizes that her best friend, Siân, may be one. Returning home from the summer holiday, she is shocked by how much Siân has changed. Is it possible that these changes were engineered by Oxted? And if Siân could be a teknoid, how many others in Tania’s life are not real?
Driven by the need to understand what sets teknoids apart from their human counterparts, Tania begins to seek answers. But time is running out. For everyone knows that on their eighteenth “birthdays,” teknoids must be returned to Oxted—never to be heard from again.
Steel And Other Stories—Richard Matheson
First published in 1956, Matheson’s “Steel” imagined a future (1997!) in which human boxing has been outlawed, but the sport continues to thrive with robot competitors.
The story revolves around former boxer and current fight arranger Tim “Steel” Kelly and his partner, Pole, who enter their robot “Battling Mayo” in a prize fight. But Mayo is an out-of-date, broken-down B-2, paired against the “Maynard Flash,” the current, and more sophisticated B-7 model.
When Mayo breaks down before the fight, a desperate Kelly disguises himself as the robot and enters the ring himself, hoping to use the prize money to repair his mechanical boxer—providing he makes it out of the fight alive.
Amy Peterson is a von Neumann machine, a self-replicating humanoid robot. For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother’s past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, little Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.
Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she’s learning impossible things about her clade’s history – like the fact that the failsafe that stops all robots from harming humans has failed. Which means that everyone wants a piece of her, some to use her as a weapon, others to destroy her.
Excession—Iain M. Banks
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.
Diplomat Byr Genar-Hofoen has been selected by the Culture to undertake a delicate and dangerous mission. The Department of Special Circumstances—the Culture’s espionage and dirty tricks section—has sent him off to investigate a 2,500-year-old mystery: the sudden disappearance of a star fifty times older than the universe itself. But in seeking the secret of the lost sun, Byr risks losing himself.
There is only one way to break the silence of millennia: steal the soul of the long-dead starship captain who first encountered the star, and convince her to be reborn. And in accepting this mission, Byr will be swept into a vast conspiracy that could lead the universe into an age of peace…or to the brink of annihilation.
The Automatic Detective—A. Lee Martinez
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, he 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.
Night Sessions—Ken MacLeod
Battle-weary from years of fighting radical Islamism, and seeking someone to blame for the ruinous consequences, public opinion in the US and the UK has turned against the belligerent faithful within their own borders. By 2037, after another US Civil War and a redistricting of the UK, religious extremism has been cast out—along with its more mild cousins. In this enlightened age there’s no persecution, but the millions who still believe and worship are a marginal and mistrusted minority.
One such believer is John Richard Campbell, an engineer who begins preaching to local robots under the assumption that they are endowed with as much soulstuff as humans. The presence of robots in this world is ubiquitous to the point where they make up an invisible underclass. And unbeknownst to Campbell, some of “his” robots have been broadcasting his message to brethren on the other side of the world, sparking something of a revolution…
Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl—David Barnett
Nineteenth century London is the center of a vast British Empire. Airships ply the skies and Queen Victoria presides over three-quarters of the known world—including the East Coast of America, following the failed revolution of 1775.
But London might as well be a world away from Sandsend, a tiny village on the Yorkshire coast. Gideon Smith dreams of the adventure promised him by the lurid tales of Captain Lucian Trigger, the Hero of the Empire, told in Gideon’s favorite “penny dreadful.” When Gideon’s father is lost at sea in highly mysterious circumstances, Gideon is convinced that supernatural forces are at work. Deciding only Captain Lucian Trigger himself can aid him, Gideon sets off for London. On the way he rescues the mysterious mechanical girl Maria from a tumbledown house of shadows and iniquities. Together they make for London, where Gideon finally meets Captain Trigger.
Saturn’s Children—Charles Stross
Freya Nakamichi-47 is a femmebot, one of the last of her kind still functioning. With no humans left to pay for the pleasures she provides, she’s making her way by working menial jobs, that is, until she inadvertently offends an “aristo”—one of the upper class. She needs to get off-planet, fast. She agrees to transport a package from Mercury to Mars for the mysterious Jeeves Corporation—only to become hunted by some very powerful humanoids who will stop at nothing to possess the contents of the package.
The Different Girl—Gordon Dahlquist
Veronika. Caroline. Isobel. Eleanor. One blond, one brunette, one redhead, one with hair black as tar. Four otherwise identical girls who spend their days in sync, tasked to learn. But when May, a very different kind of girl—the lone survivor of a recent shipwreck—suddenly and mysteriously arrives on the island, an unsettling mirror is about to be held up to the life the girls have never before questioned.
Sly and unsettling, Gordon Dahlquist’s timeless and evocative storytelling blurs the lines between contemporary and sci-fi with a story that is sure to linger in readers’ minds long after the final page has been turned.
He, She, and It—Marge Piercy
In the middle of the twenty-first century, life as we know it has changed for all time. Shira Shipman’s marriage has broken up, and her young son has been taken from her by the corporation that runs her zone, so she has returned to Tikva, the Jewish free town where she grew up. There, she meets an extraordinary man who is not a man at all, but a unique cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions—and the ability to kill….
From the imagination of Marge Piercy comes yet another stunning novel of morality and courage, a bold adventure of women, men, and the world of tomorrow.
The Trojan War rages at the foot of Olympos 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.
Man Plus—Frederik Pohl
In the not-too-distant future, a desperate war for natural resources threatens to bring civilization to a crashing halt. Nuclear warships from around the globe begin positioning themselves as the American government works feverishly to complete a massive project to colonize Mars.
Former astronaut Roger Torraway has agreed to be transformed by the latest advances in biological and cybernetic science into something new, a being that can survive the rigors of Mars before it is terraformed. Becoming Man Plus will allow him to be the linchpin in opening the new Martian frontier…but not without challenging his humanity as no man has ever been challenged before.
When Harlie Was One—David Gerrold
H.A.R.L.I.E. (Human Analog Replication, Lethetic Intelligence Engine) is an artificially intelligent machine. David Auberson, the psychologist responsible for guiding HARLIE from childhood into adulthood, struggles to understand his erratic behavior.
When humans begin vocalizing their wishes that HARLIE be shut down, he has to prove his existence and value to his warm-blooded counterparts. Throughout HARLIE’s fight to stay alive, Auberson discovers the machine has vast knowledge and understanding of life, love, and logic, posing the philosophical question whether or not HARLIE is human, and for that matter, what it means to be human.
The Machine’s Child—Kage Baker
Baker’s In the Garden of Iden introduced us to Mendoza, a cyborg botanist working for a 24th-century organization known as “The Company,” which holds the secrets of both immortality and time travel. Stolen as a child during the Spanish Inquisition, Mendoza is recruited to take genetic samples of exotic plants in her own time, to be preserved until the 24th-century.
After angering her Company masters, Mendoza is banished to a prison lost in time where rebellious immortals are “dealt with.” In The Machine’s Child, the sixth book in the series, Mendoza’s past lovers—Alec, Nicholas, and Bell-Fairfax—are determined to rescue her. But first they must learn how to live together, because all three happen to be sharing Alec’s body. What they find when they discover Mendoza is even worse than what they could have imagined, and enough for them to decide to finally fight back against the Company.
The Silver Metal Lover—Tanith Lee
For sixteen-year-old Jane, life is a mystery she despairs of ever mastering. She and her friends are the idle, pampered children of the privileged class, living in luxury on an Earth remade by natural disaster. Until Jane’s life is changed forever by a chance encounter with a robot minstrel with auburn hair and silver skin, whose songs ignite in her a desperate and inexplicable passion.
Jane is certain that Silver is more than just a machine built to please. And she will give up everything to prove it. So she escapes into the city’s violent, decaying slums to embrace a love bordering on madness. Or is it something more? Has Jane glimpsed in Silver something no one else has dared to see—not even the robot or his creators? A love so perfect it must be destroyed, for no human could ever compete?
Behemoth: Seppuku—Peter Watts
At the start of the concluding volume, Lennie and her bionic brethren have hidden in the mountains of the deep Atlantic. The facility they commandeered was more than a secret station on the ocean floor. Atlantis was an exit strategy for the corporate elite, a place where the world’s Movers and Shakers had hidden from the doomsday microbe ßehemoth—and from the hordes of the moved and the shaken left behind. For five years “rifters” and “corpses” have lived in a state of uneasy truce, united by fear of the outside world.
But now that world closes in. An unknown enemy hunts them through the crushing darkness of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. ßehemoth—twisted, mutated, more virulent than ever—has found them already. The fragile armistice between the rifters and their one-time masters has exploded into all-out war, and not even the legendary Lenie Clarke can take back the body count.
The Iron Assassin—Ed Greenwood
In Ed Greenwood’s The Iron Assassin, Victoria never ascended the throne; the House of Hanover held England only briefly before being supplanted by the House of Harminster. It is a time of gaslamps and regularly scheduled airship flights, of trams and steam-driven clockwork with countless smoke-belching stacks. London, the capitol of the Empire of the Lion, is a filthy, crowded, fast-growing city where a series of shocking murders threatens the throne itself.
Energetic young inventor Jack Straker believes he has created a weapon to defend the Crown: a reanimated, clockwork-enhanced corpse he can control. He introduces “the Iron Assassin” to the highly placed Lords who will decide if Straker’s invention becomes a weapon of the Lion-or something to be destroyed. But it quickly becomes apparent that the Iron Assassin is more self-willed than Straker intended, and that the robot-zombie’s past life is far more sinister than Straker thought. Has he created a runaway monster, or the best guardian the Lion could ever hope for?
I, Robot—Isaac Asimov
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
- A robot must obey orders givein 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 changed our perception of robots forever when he formulated the laws governing their behavior. In I, Robot, Asimov chronicles the development of the robot through a series of interlinked stories: 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.
Cinder (Book 1, The Lunar Chronicles)—Marissa Meyer
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl…
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
In late January 2006, a young robotocist on the way to Google headquarters lost an overnight bag on a flight somewhere between Dallas and Las Vegas. In it was a fully functional head of the android replica of Philip K. Dick, cult science-fiction writer and counterculture guru. It has never been recovered.
In a story that echoes some of the most paranoid fantasies of a Dick novel, readers get a fascinating inside look at the scientists and technology that made this amazing android possible. The author, who was a fellow researcher at the University of Memphis Institute of Intelligent Systems while the android was being built, introduces readers to the cutting-edge technology in robotics, artificial intelligence, and sculpture that came together in this remarkable machine and captured the imagination of scientists, artists, and science-fiction fans alike. And there are great stories about Dick himself—his inspired yet deeply pessimistic worldview, his bizarre lifestyle, and his enduring creative legacy.