Robot-themed sci fi recommendations?
July 19, 2008 3:25 PM   Subscribe

What are some good sci fi novels/short stories that focus on robots? Difficulty: no Asimov.

I'd love to read some recent sci-fi -- books or short stories -- centered around the theme of robots and AI. I'm less interested in Asimov or Philip K. Dick and more interested in more modern stuff that hasn't been made into movies. For reference, "classic" authors I like are Asimov, Niven, and Vonnegut. More recent types I like are Octavia Butler, Neal Stephenson, and Douglas Adams. I'd like to stay away from Crichton-esque beach reading unless it comes highly highly recommended.

So what have you got? I need some reading material!
posted by olinerd to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
The Cyberiad - Stanislaw Lem
posted by DarkForest at 3:32 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Part of (in my view, one of the best parts of) Cloud Atlas.
posted by escabeche at 3:42 PM on July 19, 2008

This is an incredibly broad question that covers an incredibly broad range of books; from stuff like Charlie Stross' SATURN'S CHILDREN which was just published a few weeks ago to Gibson's NEUROMANCER and BURNING CHROME (hey, it's more recent than the Adams!).

I'm having trouble narrowing it down to a manageable level; the thread is likely to turn into a "name your favorite SF novels!" thread. Are there particular themes you're interested in more specific than "robots" (which isn't actually a theme)? Are you looking for things like BICENTENNIAL MAN or more adventure-y stuff that happens to have robots or AI in it?
posted by Justinian at 4:02 PM on July 19, 2008

Time and Again by Clifford Simak
posted by octothorpe at 4:05 PM on July 19, 2008

Cloud Atlas was a fantastic book, I can't recommend it highly enough. Funny, though, I thought the characters in the future segment were heavily bioengineered humans, not robots.

Cory Doctorow has two short stories about 'droids in Overclocked, one that is an answer to Asimov's laws and the other is a charming story about a self-ware rowboat. (His stories are available for free download on his site.)

Also, Rudy Rucker's robot novels are fun fun fun. (Software, Freeware, Wetware, Realware; no longer all in print, and I may have the order wrong.)
posted by Cranialtorque at 4:06 PM on July 19, 2008

Can't think of AI without thinking of Greg Egan. Permutation City and Diaspora as novels, and a raft of short stories.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:09 PM on July 19, 2008

Pretty much anything by Sladek: Roderick (a kid robot grows up in the Midwest), The Reproductive System (fine 1960s paranoia as a DNA based computer goes berserk) and The Müller-Fokker Effect (human-memory storage hijinks) are just some that I've enjoyed. You do have to have a tolerance for obscure humour and the occasional rancid pun to manage Sladek, though.
posted by scruss at 4:11 PM on July 19, 2008

You'd pretty nearly stumped me with the no Asimov coda to your question until I recalled the Culture series of books by Iain M. Banks.

Whilst not featuring robots in the traditional Asimov idea The Culture does have two forms of AIs, drones which are about as intelligent as humans and kind of physically resemble floating footballs and superintelligent AIs known as Minds most of whom are massive starships but occasionally have other physical forms.

I'd recommend all of The Culture novels but especially Excession.
posted by electricinca at 4:11 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Cyberiad - it's without doubt a masterpiece.
posted by adrianhon at 4:20 PM on July 19, 2008

Justinian: I'm looking for stuff that specifically focuses on the "what-if" for robotic technology in society; Asimov's stuff is a good example (it's just that I've read it all multiple times and the 3-laws concept has been done to death in mainstream lit/movies). Stuff that just happens to have robots in it -- like Star Wars -- is less interesting.

These are good recs, guys... keep 'em coming :)
posted by olinerd at 4:43 PM on July 19, 2008

Tanith Lee's The Silver Metal Lover is about a woman and a robot falling in love; if it were a film, I'd describe it as a crossover between science fiction and a "chick flick."

The Brian Aldiss short story, "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long," is the basis for Speilberg's film, AI. You can get that, as well as two accompanying short stories, in the collection of the same name, or just read it online here.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:49 PM on July 19, 2008

Also, David Gerrold's When H.A.R.L.I.E. Was One is about a psychologist helping to "raise" an artificial intelligence from childhood into adulthood.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:52 PM on July 19, 2008

Dan Simmons' Hyperion novels.
Sea of Glass by Barry B. Longyear
posted by crios at 4:58 PM on July 19, 2008

While not technically "robots" David Brin's Kiln People features dittos, short-lived artificial clay reproductions of people. It's also a damn good read.
posted by JaredSeth at 4:59 PM on July 19, 2008

Oh and Robert Silverberg's Tower of Glass.
posted by JaredSeth at 5:02 PM on July 19, 2008

Dunno if you'd consider 1985 "recent" (I would, but I'm old enough to be your mother), but you might enjoy The Adolescence of P-1, about an AI that goes through a rebellious and unruly, well, adolescence.

I'm pretty sure this was never made into a movie, but I have a feeling it might have been a TV special or something - sorry if fails that criterion.
posted by Quietgal at 5:03 PM on July 19, 2008

There's also Greg Bear's Queen of Angels, /, and Moving Mars.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:36 PM on July 19, 2008

John Sladek is a good recommendation. I also suggest his sequel to Roderick, titled Roderick at Random, and also Tik-Tok, which is about what happens when a robot's Asimov circuits go haywire. ("Paint!

M.E. by Thomas T. Thomas is about an AI becoming sentient, much in the vein of Gerrold's H.A.R.L.I.E.. (Usually listed as Me, but the title is actually an acronym.)

The Turing Option by Harrison and Minsky.

The Phoenix Code and Alpha by Catherine Asaro. (I think she has a couple of other novels with robots in, too.)
posted by kindall at 6:40 PM on July 19, 2008

Currently re-reading The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey.
posted by idiotfactory at 7:07 PM on July 19, 2008

The most chilling robot story I've ever read is Alfred Bester's Fondly Fahrenheit. It's in Virtual Unrealities.
posted by Kattullus at 8:24 PM on July 19, 2008

Code of the Lifemaker by James P. Hogan

Opening scene here.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:39 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Shelter by Susan Palwick is an amazing book that involves AIs, robots, and the ways they test our definition of humanity. I can't recommend it highly enough.
posted by creepygirl at 10:38 PM on July 19, 2008

I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream is a cheerful little story by Harlan Ellison that features a giant AI. It's old, but hasn't been made into a movie.
posted by Gorgik at 10:50 PM on July 19, 2008

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