With the announcement of the new those-bad-sequels-never-happened Alien movie, it’s been forgivably easy to forget that Neill Blomkamp has a totally different sci-fi film coming out this week. Chappie is the story of the creation of a new form of thinking machine, and looks to be cresting a wave of new cinematic depictions of artificial intelligence. A.I. also plays a role in other 2015 films, from Ex Machina, to Avengers: Age of Ultron, to Terminator: Genysis.
Of course, the idea of machines ruling over mankind is a major trope in science fiction—look no further than The Matrix or, more recently, Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse—but that’s far from the only type of robot story out there. Science fiction is littered with tales of post-human intelligence as varied as L. Frank Baum’s Tik-Tok of Oz, Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, and William Gibson’s Neuromancer.
In honor of Chappie hitting theaters, here are 6 novels that help bend the curve when it comes to robotics.
vN, by Madeline Ashby
Amy Peterson is a VonNeumann, a self-replicating robot. Her maturation has been carefully tended, until she’s attacked by her malfunctioning grandmother. To escape, Peterson eats her alive, and suddenly finds herself grown to full size, with parts of her faulty ancestor now imbued in her programming. vN and its sequel iD have been widely hailed as novels that really examine the heart of robotics: are A.I.s mere objects, or individuals, and what sets them apart from humans?
The Lifecycle of Software Objects, by Ted Chaing
This novella is a touching coming of age story about a pair of robots and their creators. The story is framed with a quote from Alan Turing about how intelligence comes out of learned experiences; essentially, raising a robotic intelligence up as though it was a child. That’s what happens here, and over the course of a decade, we witness the growth and development of these peculiar beings, and the bonds they form with their parents (one-sided or not). The Lifecycle of Software Objects takes a quieter approach to robotics, showing that the conflict might not be in the programmed rules that guide them, but the relationships they form—like any flesh-and-blood individual.
Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
Ann Leckie’s powerhouse debut tends to be described as a space opera first, but it has a lot to say about artificial intelligence. Breq was the mind of a starship, controlling each of its functions as well as thousands of altered human bodies-turned-ancillary soldiers. When her ship is destroyed, her entire intelligence remains in a single ancillary as she embarks on a years-long quest for revenge. Breq is a fascinating subject, one who demonstrates both sides of the intelligence equation, mechanical and meat. The stark differences between the two mean she has to navigate her way using every instinct she has left.
Up Against It, by M.J. Locke
On the asteroid colony of Phoecea, administrator Jane Navio must confront a crisis when a freak event destroys most of their resources (including their water, the most precious commodity of all in the far reaches of space). In her quest to discover what happened, she learns it may have been no accident, but the inadvertent, self-preserving actions of a malfunctioning bit of code that has gained sentience. With intriguing passages from the point of view of an AI that’s quickly evolving and gaining new understanding (even as it grows, wreaks havoc across the station, and outpaces the humans who inhabit it), this one stands as a unique work of hard sci-fi.
Nexus, by Ramez Naam
In Ramez Naam’s debut trilogy (including Crux and the upcoming Apex), a new drug called Nexus links people together mentally, and a young scientist is drawn into a world of trouble that stretches from academia to shadowy government labs. As Kade Lane works to improve the drug, he finds that there are those who are working to use it to turn people into unwitting killers. Naam works to realistically display the consequences of post-human intelligence, as a new generation comes into the world drastically different than their predecessors.
Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, by Judd Trichter
Tricher’s debut follows Eliot Lazar, who falls in love with an android named Iris Matsuo. In this late 21st Century L.A., such an affair is strictly taboo, except in Avernus, a man-made island far out in the Pacific. When Iris is kidnapped and stripped for parts, Eliot goes on a mad rush to reassemble his love and to exact revenge upon those who took her from him. Trichter considers the boundaries between humans and robots, and what happens when that line blurs.
What are your favorite stories of artificial intelligence?