#SciFiMonth Sci-5 Tuesday: A.I. and Robot Protagonists
To celebrate science fiction during the month of November, I’ve put together a series of posts I’ll be doing every Tuesday to highlight the sci-fi tropes or themes that I find simply irresistible! I’ve also been fortunate to read some great books in the genre over the last few years, and to give them some extra attention, each week I will also be featuring five titles that I recently enjoyed or thought were pretty special.
This week’s topic is A.I. AND ROBOT PROTAGONISTS! For my purposes, this would include androids or any form of artificial being or bot that used to be human.
Told from the point of a view of a rogue SecUnit—a part organic, part synthetic android designed to provide humans with protection and security services—this story takes readers on a journey to a distant planet being explored by team of scientists. Accompanying them is our protagonist, a self-proclaimed “Murderbot”, whose presence is required by the Company sponsoring the mission. Thing is though, Murderbot doesn’t exactly feel warm and fuzzy towards humans, and it knows that the scientists aren’t too comfortable with having a SecUnit on the team either, given the cagey way they get whenever it’s around. Still, that’s just fine for Murderbot. Having hacked its own governor so that it doesn’t have to follow Company directives, all it wants is to be left alone to enjoy the thousands of hours of entertainment vids that it has downloaded from the humans’ satellites. Of course, no one can suspect that Murderbot is secretly autonomous, so it still has to go about its job like everything is normal, and this arrangement was working out just fine until one day, a routine surface test goes seriously wrong. Murderbot ends up saving the day, earning the admiration and curiosity of the team leader, Dr. Mensah. Soon, Murderbot is left with no choice but to take the lead in defending the scientists, when disaster strikes another neighboring expedition on the planet and threatens to come after them next. (Read the full review…)
Meet Bob Johansson, who has just sold off his software company and is looking to take his new fortune to a service offering their clients the option to cryogenically freeze themselves in the event of their deaths. You can probably guess where this is headed. Sure enough, while enjoying his new life of freedom and leisure at a convention in Las Vegas, Bob gets distracted while crossing the street and—BAM! Pain and blackness is the last thing he remembers before waking up more than a century later to discover that he is now an artificial intelligence created from a brain scan of his consciousness. The country has turned into a theocracy which has declared that replicants like Bob are without rights. He is also now the property of a government program developing a self-replicating interstellar von Neumann probe with the goal of exploring the galaxy. If all goes well, Bob will be uploaded into the probe and sent on journey into space to look for habitable planets. Unfortunately, the mission will be dangerous. Other nations have the same idea and are all in competition with each other, and as Bob travels deeper into space, he also begins to realize the need for more processing power, leading him to clone himself multiple times in order to distribute all his responsibilities. And thus, we end up with a “legion” of Bobs, each one going about their own way and chronicling their own adventures in deep space. (Read the full review…)
We first met Lovelace and Pepper from The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, and while they might not have been among the key perspective characters, they nonetheless quickly won over readers’ hearts. Now through their eyes, we get to experience another chapter of the Wayfarers saga, continuing the story from another point of view. Without going into too much detail, Lovelace was once the A.I. of a starship, but due to complicated circumstances her programming had to be transferred into a highly realistic (and also extremely illegal) synthetic human body called a “kit”. Having been “reborn” into this new life, she also decides to take on a new identity, adopting the name Sidra. With her friend Pepper, the tech wizard who helped download her consciousness into her body kit, the two of them begin to work out how they will go about integrating Sidra into the greater galactic society without setting off suspicions or attracting attention from the law. In the same spirit as the first book, this standalone sequel likewise tackles the themes of life, love, and family, exploring interpersonal, social, and cultural ideas. In a galaxy so large, where aliens of all different shapes and sizes mingle, this is a powerful story about taking control of your own destiny and finding a place to belong. (Read the full review…)
The novel follows the life of a robot named Brittle in a post-apocalyptic future. But Brittle isn’t a typical robot and this isn’t your typical post-apocalyptic story. In the world of this book, humanity’s fear of an A.I. takeover has indeed come to pass, but instead of us prevailing like all the movies always show, victory actually went to the machines. Now it has been thirty years since the war, and every last human is dead. Super computers referred to as the One World Intelligences control everything, and the last two standing have turned to fighting each other, determined to be the only mainframe left to reign over the minds of all robots on the planet. But not all robots want to give up their individuality and be part of the collective. Those like Brittle survive by eking out a precarious existence in the large desert known as the Sea of Rust, selling whatever spare parts she can pull from other broken bots she comes across in her travels. Brittle herself is one corrupted core away from certain death, when one day she suffers damage to an irreplaceable, irreparable piece of her hardware. Brittle knows her days are numbered, unless she can find the part she needs to save herself. As it so happens, she is offered a slim chance of survival by a group of independent robots needing her services as a pathfinder through the wasteland. Their mission is secretive and dangerous, but Brittle is left with no choice but to accept their offer in order to avoid her own inevitable shutdown. (Read the full review…)
Ancillary Justice follows Breq, a soldier who is more (and, I suppose, also less) than she seems. An “Ancillary”, Breq was formerly one of many corpse soldiers all linked up with an artificial intelligence as part of a massive starship called the Justice of Toren, so in a sense, she IS the Justice of Toren. However, after an act of treachery, our protagonist was the only one who made it out of the subsequent disaster, making her the last surviving remnant of the ship, left alone and isolated in a human body. Now she sets herself on a path of vengeance to track down and kill Anaander Mianaai, the multi-bodied and near-immortal Lord of the Radch who was responsible. Breq’s narration reflects the fact that she is a part of a ship, a bigger whole. In chapters where she is linked up to the rest of the Justice of Toren, we see through the eyes of multiple Ancillaries, which in essence are all one entity. Because the ship’s Ancillaries are everywhere, the narrator is aware of things happening around all her different segments who are in different places at the same time. This “omniscient effect” was no doubt a challenge to write, but I thought Leckie did as well as anyone possibly could. And indeed, this was a compelling novel, raising interesting questions and themes about freedom, identity, independence and choice. (Read the full review…)
What are some of the tropes and themes you enjoy reading about in sci-fi? Are you also a fan of stories featuring A.I. and robot protagonists? Let me know your favorites and recommendations!