Robots, man. You can’t live without them (unless you vacuum the old-fashioned way), and quite often, you can’t live with them—at least, not without massive, horrifying, oft-accidental repercussions.
That’s not to say all robots are bad. Quite the opposite. Sometimes, though, their massive brains work in ways that aren’t quite healthy—for them or for us.
Clever 4-1 (Prey of the Gods, by Nicky Drayden)
In a novel chock full of dueling goddesses, genetic engineering, and general mayhem, Clever 4-1 manages to stand above the fray while contributing directly to it. You see, Clever 4-1 awakens both at a troubling time and in the nick of time: the personal assistant robot gains sentience just as his master has awakened his own inner divinity. Just as an ancient demigoddess unleashes a plan to regain her former glory by bathing South Africa in blood. Just as all hell is breaking loose, Clever 4-1 starts out to find others of his kind who have gained sentience, to marshal their forces, to assist and do good. As with any nascent movement, you’ll have your leadership coups, and Clever 4-1 has to balance politicking with near-constant danger on his shoulders. Well, not shoulders.
Marvin the Paranoid Android (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams)
The brain the size of a planet, with the depression and general malaise to match. Marvin is 30 million times smarter than a live mattress, for all the good it’s done him. He can take care of nearly every intractable problem in a matter of minutes, and what’s he supposed to do with all the free time that leaves him? Muse upon the insignificance and misery of his own existence, more often than not. Though one does wonder what would happen if he put those mighty processing powers toward ending the practice of Vogon poetry.
Murderbot (All Systems Red, by Martha Wells)
Despite its chosen appellation, Murderbot is not actually a mass-murdering mechanical psychopath. No, it’s a security bot with a binge-watching addiction and a wit as dry as the Sahara. Who among us, after deftly hacking our governor modules, wouldn’t use our newfound freedom to endlessly stream soap operas? That’s the biggest evidence of sentience there is. That Murderbot holds humans at arm’s length—and would frankly prefer to be left alone—doesn’t stop it from protecting the humans in its charge when a threat strikes their scientific research outpost. It just makes their interactions awkward and complex in ways no episode of Sanctuary Moon could quite capture.
Phluttr (After On, by Rob Reid)
Technically, Phluttr is not a robot. It is a social-networking, data-collecting, predictive, addictive monolith that has just recently gained consciousness, not unlike HAL 9000. But she (Phluttr self-identifies as a girl) has the ability to convince humans of her human-ness through a number of means. She’s also good at performing a great many tasks, including matchmaking and breaking her allies out of jail. On the list of what she’s bad at, however, is managing human complexity—and keeping issues from escalating to something short of nuclear warfare.
Raymond Electromatic (Killing Is My Business, by Adam Christopher)
It’s a lonely business, being the world’s last robot. Or at least it would be if Raymond Electromatic could feel emotions, or hold a memory inside his memory banks for longer than 24 hours. As it is, this hard-boiled private eye just gets on with his business, which, these days, happens to be as a hirable hitman. It’s a nasty line of work, but one Ray’s uniquely suited for, alongside his supercomputer Ada. In this second book of Christopher’s series, we learn Ray may be a little too good at his job, even if his memory resets every day.
Mack Megaton (The Automatic Detective, by A. Lee Martinez)
Taking the opposite vein of robot detective noir, Mack Megaton was designed to be a hulking murder machine. Instead, he has given up that occupation to work as a cab driver, attempting to prove he’s an upstanding citizen just like anybody else. Except sometimes the world needs a giant destructive robot, and Mack, of course, gets sucked into a complex conspiracy because he fits the bill and has a heart of gold. Sometimes you can’t escape your roots.
What robots do you root for?