Looking for novels about AI in the very distant future
April 11, 2012 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Looking for sci-fi novels with a theme similar to Karl Schroeder's Ventus.

I'm a casual sci-fi reader (maybe 3-5 sci-fi novels annually) and just finished Schroeder's Ventus. I'd like to find a few more that explore similar ideas. Main criteria I'm looking for: written in the past ten years or so and set in the distant future where advanced AI and humans are in a partnership (or power struggle). Ideas are generally more important than story line to me, but a good coherent narrative is certainly preferable. Any recommendations? Thanks!
posted by Burhanistan to Technology (16 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty much contractually obligated to mention Iain Banks' Culture series here. The Culture is a post-scarcity utopia (sort of) that functions because it's actually run entirely by AI orders of magnitude smarter than people - to the point that the books explicitly raise the point that the human "crews" of starships are more like the beloved pets of the Minds who really run the show. Stories tend to be driven either by threats to the utopian system from the outside (invasions) or the desire/need for the Culture to meddle in the affairs of other civilizations out of a moral imperative to Make Everything Better. Huge ideas, good narrative, fun characters.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:33 PM on April 11, 2012

Yep, the Culture books are right up your alley.
posted by griphus at 1:40 PM on April 11, 2012

Scratch Monkey by MeFi's own Charles Stross.
posted by axiom at 1:41 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

First thing that came to mind on reading your criteria is AppleSeed by (the) John Clute. It's honestly one of the most astonishingly ideas-dense books I've read. It's definitely set in the distant future, friendly and hostile AI plays a huge part, and the situation humanity finds itself in is extremely alien. The plot and characters do seriously take a back seat (though that's not to say they're unmemorable), and some people I've recommended it to have found the total lack of upfront exposition and heavy use of fictional neologisms to be horribly offputting, but it's worth sticking with. I just sort of feel obliged to say that mileages vary enormously with it, but if you love it, you'll love it.
posted by emmtee at 2:05 PM on April 11, 2012

Set in the far future, Alastair Reynolds' House of Suns deals with tensions between human and synthetic intelligences. Plus, it has a mystery. One of his better novels.
posted by One Hand Slowclapping at 2:31 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding Tomorrowful's Culture novels recommendation for the advanced AI stuff. I'm actually more fond of Iain M. Banks' non-Culture novels (he's on record saying that he only writes one of those when he has a really good idea) but books like Look to Windward or Matter or The Player of Games might be just your thing.

Or if you want a Culture novel where most of the action happens on millisecond timescales between vast and inscrutable AI actors and the humans are merely along for the ride, try Excession.

The very first Culture novel was Consider Phlebas - but that's told entirely from the PoV of an outsider fighting against the Culture, and it is dark and cynical and speaks of futility. Maybe not the best introduction unless you plan to read several of the books anyway.

(I've read most everything by Alastair Reynolds but they never quite hit the spot for me. Not sure why - if I was trying to recommend a book that I should like, that's what I'd suggest... And I love the Charles Stross books - Singularity Sky / Iron Sunrise come closest to what you're looking for, I suppose, but they're not quite as good a match to your question as Banks.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:35 PM on April 11, 2012

Perhaps the Golden Age novels by John C. Wright (starting with The Golden Age, followed by The Phoenix Exultant and The Golden Transcendence). From the Heinlein branch of SF, full of wonderful examples of varying levels of intelligences.
posted by N-stoff at 4:10 PM on April 11, 2012

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi is a great romp through the solar system with transhumans Ais and sentient rocketships. It's also a good mystery. Up for a Locus award for best new novel and one of the best books of last year imo.
posted by bonehead at 4:13 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

You might want to check out Cat Valente's novella Silently And Very Fast. It was just nominated for a Hugo. I just started reading it (a quarter of the way in) and I think it may well fit your criteria.
posted by bibliogrrl at 6:53 PM on April 11, 2012

Karl's Virga series and Lady of Mazes have similar themes to Ventus. I haven't read Lady of Mazes but the Virga series is good.
posted by fiercekitten at 10:01 PM on April 11, 2012

Seconding the Culture, and The Quantum Thief, and the Stross books mentioned above.

I do want to add another Iain Banks SF book from his non-culture Collection: "The Algebraist" is about a human society which, thanks to another warring "spacer" faction has been cut off from its local wormhole connecting it to a greater human nation. As the book starts, it's about to be visited by both its home nation's sublight ships as well as a conquering invasion force, so they decide to seek help from the ludicrously advanced--yet decadently slow-moving-- alien neighbors in the gas giant in their home system.

The humans involved are categorically opposed to AIs, though they use them (and then kill them) as needed, such as using copied people in order to convey more information than a message can. The book doesn't rest on this, really, and is largely set with one character who trained to slow down his mind in order to communicate with the advanced aliens (and ask them for help).

I'm also going to recommend Stanislaw Lem's "Mortal Engines," and the "Bolo" books written by various authors based on the creation of Keith Laumer. Check out the Baen free Library for some Bolo books. Bolos are mega-tanks; the early models were semi-autonomous, the later models were AIs. In all cases, they are obedient to their masters, military and civilian, but they are among the only AIs their people seem to encounter, and there's always an air of distrust among the people newly selected to command them. Sometimes, they are retired, and partly disarmed, but they're always vigilant. Ultimately the Bolo is the hero who saves the day, sometimes sacrificing itself in the process. The potentially predictable ending shouldn't deter you from reading some excellent stories about the conflicts within the soldier characters.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:53 AM on April 12, 2012

These are all great, thank you! I just started on The Quantum Thief and am enjoying the ride so far.

Everyone gets a best answer, but not until the Singularity.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:16 AM on April 12, 2012

Seconding N-stoff's recommendation of John C. Wright. I really, really liked these, and they seem right up your alley. I actually don't like Heinlein at all and it wouldn't have ocurred to me to compare Wright to him, so if Heinlein doesn't float your boat either, I wouldn't worry.

I also liked Ventus, but Lady of Mazes (which is set in the same universe, albeit in a very different setting) is not as great. I really love Schroeder, and the book is packed full of ideas and interesting characters, but I found it confusing to follow and not as cleanly plotted and organized as most of the rest of his work. (FWIW, my wife, who has similar tastes, agreed.)
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 12:05 PM on April 12, 2012

Ken MacLeod's Fall Revolution series (The Star Fraction, The Stone Canal, and The Cassini Division) are a series of books that move from near-future cyberpunkish to futuristic Singularity shenanigans. I think I've read that he's a friend of Iain Banks, but I can't find anything to back that up right now - there's certainly a thematic link between their output.
posted by The River Ivel at 4:39 AM on April 13, 2012

Perhaps the Golden Age novels by John C. Wright (starting with The Golden Age, followed by The Phoenix Exultant and The Golden Transcendence).

That is, if you like pedophilia (complete with loving descriptions of spanking an 8 (?) year old girl) and bizarre fusions of hardcore Catholicism and Randian politics.

Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams might be up your street, though a bit older than your cutoff (1995 iirc).
posted by MartinWisse at 5:54 AM on April 16, 2012

If you look at the very first culture novel, there's a dedication to MacLeod in it.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:55 AM on April 16, 2012

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