01010100 01101000 01100101 01110011 01100101 00100000 01100010 01101111 01101111 01101011 01110011 ….what? You can’t read binary? Shame on you. Fine. Let’s start over.
Robots. How about ’em? They provide an endless source of fascination for the human race–though mostly we wonder how soon until they wipe us out. Cheery, right? That little Roomba keeping your floors clean? Could tomorrow become sentient, get tired of sucking dust and spark the Terminator/Skynet apocalypse. Best to just take it out back with a shotgun and give it the Ol’ Yeller treatment before it’s too late.
Science fiction writers often envision worlds where robots abound, performing tasks anywhere from household chores to acting as personal assistants to spaceship piloting to detective work and beyond. Plus all the sex, violence, and mayhem that tends to go along with unruly bits of technology. The following three books put robots in the spotlight, where they can beep, sputter, spark, and overthrow humanity to your heart’s content.
THE RUNDOWN: Humanity picked the wrong time to reject religion–right when robots started getting it. The problem turns out to be that robots can be even more fanatical about their beliefs than humans ever were, and they’ve also got us trumped on things like speed, strength, brainpower and weaponry. When a Scotland detective discovers a bombing was possibly motivated by religious terrorism, it’s up to him and his task force to uncover the culprit and stop further acts of violence from inciting another global faith war.
THE CONTRAST: To some, this may read more as a mystery/thriller that just happens to have robots and other science fiction elements along for the ride. The main detective’s partner is a sentient robot that has quite the snippy personality, and religious debate is just as important to the plot as questions about what to do with rogue artificial intelligences or how to keep technology safely confined to human control (Hint: You can’t).
THE RUNDOWN: A wide variety of authors tackle the concept of power armor, placing it in environments ranging from alien planets to war-torn South America to far-future dystopias. It often explores the melding of human and robotic elements, both in mind and matter, along with the trials both man and machine face when forced to coexist on rather intimate levels.
THE CONTRAST: First off, it’s a short story collection rather than a full novel. Second, there might be some who argue that power armor suits aren’t “robots” as we normally think of them. Well, time to expand your mind, because there’s plenty of robotic goodness to be enjoyed in this anthology. The armor versions in the stories often contain a level of artificial intelligence and autonomy, and stories range from hardwired military scifi to more emotional investigations of what it’s like to have a relationship (good or bad) with a piece of technology.
THE RUNDOWN: Agatha is a bumbling laboratory assistant and student until an accident awakens her spectacular powers of invention. This, unfortunately, brings her to the attention of the most powerful man in the nation, who will stop at nothing to either control or destroy her so no one else can take advantage of her abilities.
THE CONTRAST: I’ll admit, this is tossing a bit of a wrench into the stew (also, really screwing up my wordplay). This entry isn’t a novel, but a graphic novel compiled from an award-winning webcomic. It’s set in more of a steampunk world where steam-driven robots are common. However, they aren’t limited to that form of tech, and the artwork, humor, and adventures are all marvelous, to say the least.
I seem to often set myself up for a tough knockout round by posing three quite unique publications against each other, each with their own virtues. Plus, I continue to refuse the cop-out answer of “Just read them all.” So, which one comes out on top?
Armored is an excellent short story collection, but if you’re picky about your science fiction subgenres, you’re likely to find a handful that aren’t as entertaining or involving as the rest. We’ll set it aside for the time being in favor of a more consistent overall reading experience.
I’m not sure you could find two publications as different from each other than Girl Genius: Agatha Awakens and The Night Sessions (That was to make a point about these two, not to issue a challenge to readers, just so we’re clear). On the one hand, you’ve got the webcomic-turned-graphic novel set in an alternate world where half-mad inventors rule nations and robotic creations crowd the streets and skies. On the other, you’ve got a fascinating religious thriller set in a robot-infested future that is scarily close to our own.
I’m going to call it for The Night Sessions in this instance. Partly because of its standout all-around excellence and partly because my hunch is that many readers have already been exposed to Girl Genius in one of its forms.
So, if you’re in the mood for science fiction that will get your mental gears spinning and bring a unique slant to religious conflict and moral quandaries (plus lots and lots of robots!), look no further than The Night Sessions, by Ken MacLeod.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled termination…I mean program.
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