The real question is not whether machines think but whether men do. -- B. F. Skinner
August 1, 2007 1:08 AM   Subscribe

What are the all-time best science fiction novels which depict Artificial Intelligence?

I don't religiously keep up with the latest in science fiction, but I've got Gibson's Neuromancer, Clark's 2001 and Asimov covered. But what other great novels deal with Artificial Intelligence as the central theme?

I'm looking for especially creative and technical depictions of AI, which present the commonly used concepts in a way that is utterly ingenious. Some tortured, and mostly unrecognized author has to have pieced together the future of how AI is all going to turn out, what its impact on civilization and individuals will be, and where humanity will end up as a result. I am imagining an author who is Lovecraft-meets-Ligotti with a dash of Philip K. Dick and Pynchon, but for AI-themed sci-fi?

I know there's a small mountain of new sci-fi books published every year, and AI is a topic which has been done to death, so I want to cull the lesser quality and hit or miss type of books and recover the true gems destined to become premonitory classics.
Help me hive-mind!
posted by archae to Technology (37 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
One of the great AI's in SF is Mycroft Holmes in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", by Heinlein.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:10 AM on August 1, 2007

The Culture novels by Iain M Banks feature very interesting forms of AI in the Minds and Drones. The whole society is effectively run by these vast Minds, with humans in a symbiotic (or perhaps parasitical) relationship with them, effectively 'just along for the ride'.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:18 AM on August 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Richard Powers Galatea 2.2 is a great novel that takes AI the other way with modern realism and portrayal of the human condition.
posted by arruns at 1:42 AM on August 1, 2007

Greg Egan's Permutation City.

Charlie Stross's Accelerando.
posted by ninebelow at 2:50 AM on August 1, 2007

Probably worth mentioning that Stross is a member of MetaFilter and likely has some good answers of his own.
posted by ninebelow at 2:53 AM on August 1, 2007

For a dark view, there's I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison.
posted by jbickers at 3:14 AM on August 1, 2007

David Mitchell's "Ghostwritten" was very interesting - AI plays a large part towards the end, although it's not entirely clear what's going on.
posted by handee at 3:42 AM on August 1, 2007

It's sort of dated now, but Destination: Void by Frank Herbert has a unique take on the issue.
posted by Daily Alice at 3:42 AM on August 1, 2007

Stanislaw Lem's The Cyberiad. I've only read a kidlit abridgement, but it was definitely original.
posted by Paddle to Sea at 3:57 AM on August 1, 2007

I seccond Accelerando, not just for the AI but the sheer balls out crush of the technological Singularity.

Some others:

Iron Sunrise by Stross, also
Idoru, and Neuromancer by William Gibson
Perdido Street Station by China Meiville (mostly realist fantasy but there is a very interesting plot about A.I. involved as well, very creatively implimented)
posted by pemdasi at 4:54 AM on August 1, 2007

What, no When H.A.R.L.I.E. Was One? The Central Computer from John Varley's Steel Beach?
posted by adipocere at 5:31 AM on August 1, 2007

It is pretty dark and overshadowed by the movie based upon it, but you might like Colossus.
posted by TedW at 5:39 AM on August 1, 2007

I really enjoyed Galatea 2.2, and Powers' work, in general. I also understand Dino Buzzati's Il Grande Ritratto (translated from the Italian as Larger Than Life [1960]) is well thought of, though I haven't read it, myself.
posted by steef at 6:05 AM on August 1, 2007

Dan Simmons' Hyperion books include a few AI factions actually fighting amongst themselves to further opposing goals.
posted by JaredSeth at 6:12 AM on August 1, 2007

One interesting very-far-future look at AI is in Jon C. Wright's Golden Age, the Super-Intelligent AI has run things for millenia, develops its own sense of morality, and throws a big party every 1000 years
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 6:33 AM on August 1, 2007

James Hogan's Code of the Lifemaker is about the interaction between humans & a very evolved AI society. Here's the prologue, which is the origins of the AI world. It's out of print, but easy to find. It's not the all-time best SF novel, but it's a good read.
posted by fidelity at 6:44 AM on August 1, 2007

John Varley actually has a bunch of blatant and not so blatant A.I issues in his short stories. I seconds the Cyberiad wholeheartedly. The Complete Roderick by John Sladek
posted by edgeways at 6:47 AM on August 1, 2007

"The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect" and the "Passage" series are pretty much the only reason I bother to check Kuro5hin anymore.

I also liked Accelerando
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:50 AM on August 1, 2007

Check out Atrocity Acrchives also by Charles Stross. I just started reading it but the premise is a fresh look at the occult in the 21st century. Also I found the Dresden files Book Series by Jim Butcher to be excellent as well. Mr. Butchers books are a lighter read and less on the technical side when compared to Mr. Stross. However, the Dresden books still look at magic in the current day as a background idea.
posted by remthewanderer at 7:04 AM on August 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

"The Moon is a Harsh Mistress"

Seconded. The fact that it was written in 1966 makes it even more interesting.

John Varley writes pretty good AI in a lot of his books. Not sure which to recommend. Probably Millennium for "Big Computer."
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:26 AM on August 1, 2007

Thirding "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and "Accelerando."

I'd recommend Otherland by Tad Williams, as well.
posted by vkxmai at 7:43 AM on August 1, 2007

Saberhagen's Berserker series.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:47 AM on August 1, 2007

Greg Bear's Queen of Angels, /, and Moving Mars have a good take.

Melissa Scott's Dreaming Metal is okay.

Sarah Zettel's Fool's War offers a different view than most.

Karl Schroeder's Ventus has intelligent systems, if not chatty AIs, that are limited in interesting ways.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:59 AM on August 1, 2007

Second "Accelerando." Second almost anything by Gibson—apart from his most recent two books, all his novels in some way deal with the emergence of AI.

Greg Bear's "Queen of Angels" and "Slant" deal with the emergence of AIs.
posted by adamrice at 7:59 AM on August 1, 2007

Seconding William Gibson's Neuromancer. That book is rather seminal.
posted by kaseijin at 8:21 AM on August 1, 2007

How to Survive the Robot Uprising. The book itself is quite silly (and not a novel), but supposedly the research for it was quite thorough. The author was a grad student in robotics, and interviewed various professors and other students with different areas of expertise on what might be the strengths and weaknesses of the AI if and when they do turn against us. However, I think most of it revolves around the mechanical aspects of robots, not so much the possible behavior of AI.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 8:37 AM on August 1, 2007

Peter Watt's interesting new Blindsight treats not just artificial intelligence but the possibility that all intelligence is essentially artificial, and consciousness an unnecessary (and evolutionarily expensive) feature of only some organic or machine minds.
posted by nicwolff at 9:05 AM on August 1, 2007

Oh, and seconding Iain M Banks, in particular for your purposes Excession, which has long and entertaining conversations between AIs.
posted by nicwolff at 9:07 AM on August 1, 2007

Someone mentioned John Varley. I would specifically recommend a creepy short story of his called Press Enter â–„.
Another good short story (more romantical) would be Vonnegut's EPICAC.
posted by subajestad at 9:49 AM on August 1, 2007

K Dicks Kiln People deals with artifical people... and was an awesome book.
posted by Jacen at 10:46 AM on August 1, 2007

Second "When H.A.R.L.I.E. Was One".

The tech is very dated but the issues are very much contemporary. One of my all-time favorite sci-fi books.

Obligatory wikipedia link ->
posted by latexalibi at 10:58 AM on August 1, 2007

Vernor Vinge won a Hugo Award in 1993 for A Fire Upon The Deep.
posted by fellion at 11:28 AM on August 1, 2007

The societal role of AI entities is an important theme in Frederick Pohl's Heechee books. By Neuromancer, I assume you mean the whole first trilogy, as it is a prominent theme in all, and yes, as noted in Idoru and All Tomorrow's Parties as well. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Phillip K Dick novel Blade Runner was loosely based on) is about intelligent artificial life forms.
posted by nanojath at 12:43 PM on August 1, 2007

The Adolescence of P-1 (wikipedia, amazon). It is reputed to be one of the earliest fictional books that talks about computer viruses, and in high school I was best buddies with the author's son.

He was an interesting guy to talk to.
posted by Irontom at 1:06 PM on August 1, 2007

You mention P.K. Dick in your question.
Have read all of the novels/stories that Dick wrote that deal with AI? (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? being the prime example.)

Also, looking at this ancient "Hugo winners Volume 2" anthology that's been sitting in my bathroom forever, I also reccomend I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison (the link is to an anthology of his work by the same name, which includes that story).
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 2:01 PM on August 1, 2007

By the way, Blindsight is available as a free download.
posted by ninebelow at 2:37 AM on August 2, 2007

Asimov's "The Last Question," because it extrapolates the future of humanity the furthest.
posted by iamck at 8:11 AM on August 2, 2007

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