Robot science fiction has long been a favorite genre for readers. This type of science fiction combines intriguing characters with some of the philosophical questions which accompany robotics and artificial intelligence. This list contains some of the most influential classics in science fiction history as well as a mix of more modern genre work. If you want to check out any of these titles for free, you can do so with Audible's one month free trial.
By Philip K Dick
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is an absolute landmark work of robot science fiction and gained even greater recognition due to being adapted into the classic motion picture Blade Runner. Dick’s novel is set in a gritty futuristic world where the story’s hero is tasked with hunting down sentient robots that have gone rogue. The story raises many interesting philosophical questions and is a must read for any fan of robot scifi.
By Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams’ tale is a landmark work helping to establish the norms for quirky, humorous science fiction. The robot which makes Hitchhiker’s Guide worthy of this list is Marvin the Paranoid Android, an iconic character who has gained recognition even outside the science fiction genre. The tale itself is fun and adventurous, full of many memorable characters and humorous occurrences.
By Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov is an indisputable giant within the world of robot science fiction due to his formulation of the three laws of robotics. I, Robot is a landmark work of robot scifi which explores every facet of robots and their place in the world of humans, from their conception through to their possible replacement of humanity. This is a thought provoking read for fans of intelligent robot science fiction.
By William Gibson
Neuromancer is a classic gritty science fiction tale of the future which has frequently been compared to 1984 and Brave New World. It is a similar classic which imagines a future in which sinister forces are at play. Neuromancer’s plot focuses on artificial intelligence and shady political forces at play. The tale is a classic in both the robot and cyberpunk genres and has been a seminal science fiction work for decades.
By Ken McLeod
The Night Sessions by Ken McLeod envisions a world in which extreme secularism has been embraced and religions and those who believe in them have been pushed to the edges of society. This is also a world populated by sentient robots who sometimes help humanity but are often shunned by their very creators. The Night Sessions is an imaginative work of robot scifi which managed to make many relevant satirical points about the world in which we live.
By C Robert Cargill
Sea of Rust is set in a future world in which humanity has been totally wiped out by an unimaginably powerful artificial intelligence and the robots it has at its command. In this world without mankind, the two most powerful artificial intelligence systems vie for control. The story’s main character is a robot outlawed to the most remote and barren part of the world. Cargill’s robot scifi tale is an immersive vision of a future which is terrifyingly plausible.
By Daniel H Wilson
Daniel H Wilson is featured more than once on this list and with good reason - as well as being an acclaimed science fiction, he also holds advanced degrees in robotics and computing. This level of knowledge adds a level of complexity to his work not found in many other books, and is a true bonus for fans of robot scifi. Robopocalypse is an epic tale of humanity united in an ultimate war against artificial intelligence, robots, and technology in general.
By Karel Capek
R.U.R, standing for Rossum’s Universal Robots, is a little different from other works on this list as it takes the form of a play. However, its early publication time in the 1920s makes it an essential read for any true fan of robot scifi. Capek’s story is set in a world where human like robots more similar to clones than machines are used to do humanity’s bidding. There is a lot of satire and black humor in R.U.R which examines the social and economic implications of a world where robots can carry out humanity’s bidding.
By William Campbell Powell
Expiration Day takes place in a version of the future where humanity’s fertility rate has declined massively as a whole. Only a very small number of genuine human children are born. Most of the population takes the form of robots manufactured by a corporation. Powell’s story is a robot scifi tale centering around one girl’s quest to discover the difference between humanity and robots, with tension provided by the fact that all robots are permanently returned to their makes on their eighteenth birthday, the expiration day of the title.
By Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons’ Ilium is an epic mix of fantasy and science fiction, primarily set on Mars. The story is based around an epic war raging in space triggered by the Gods of Greek mythology such as Zeus and his family. The Planet Earth has a small group of surviving humans, and powerful robots are also featured in this story. Ilium is a great choice for anyone who enjoys fantastical stories in addition to more traditional robot science fiction.
By Frederik Pohl
Frederik Pohl begins his Man Plus series with a robot science fiction story of the same name. The tale is based around a man who has been chosen to be transformed into a being capable of surviving in the Martian climate without a suit or other assistance. All doesn’t go to plan and the story examines the meaning of humanity and the implications of undergoing a profound transformation.
By Daniel H Wilson
How To Survive a Robot Uprising is a perfect mix of amusing robot scifi along with high levels of technical detail. The author is a real world robotics expert and this is evidenced by the wide range of different robot types mentioned in this book. As well as being an entertaining read in its own right, How To Survive a Robot Uprising also is thought provoking as it makes the reader consider what they would do in the situations mentioned.
By Daniel Suarez
The first entry in Daniel Suarez’s Daemon series is a book by the same name which explores what would happen if normal human society was taken down by a form of software intelligence totally free of human control. The book is a thriller which provokes uncomfortable questions about the nature of our technologically connected, interdependent world. The author is a genuine tech expert and his level of knowledge shines through here.
By Hayley Stone
Machinations is an interesting take on the robot scifi genre which sees a world in which machines have turned on humans. This is the result of an imperative to prevent war, a problem which they decide is best solved by eliminating humanity. The story’s heroine is a member of the human resistance who has had her personality, memories, DNA etc transported into a new version of herself. The practical and philosophical implications of this are explored with great skill by Hayley Stone.
By Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov is the father of the robot science fiction genre, and The Caves of Steel is the first installment in his Robot series of novels. The book tells the story of a human and robot detective pairing that must learn to work together. The story explores the distrust that occurs between robots and humanity and also exists as an interesting detective story in its own right. This is the perfect starting point for readers looking to get into Asimov’s series.
By David Simpson
This is a collection of the first four stories in David Simpson’s Post-Human series. These are known for being incredibly plot driven and are story-based rather than deeper works of literature. The world in which the stories is set sees advanced artificial intelligence in widespread use. Unlike some novels which set out to make a strong statement, Post-Human’s stories are willing to explore both the positive and negative aspects of AI and how it might impact humanity.
By Randall Frakes
The Terminator is the book version of the film of the same name. This is a well-known story of a robot being sent back through time in order to try and alter the course of events. Fans of the film will enjoy this portrayal of the story and the extra information it provides, and it’s of course suitable for those who haven’t seen the motion picture.
By Matthew Dho
I Am Waltz is set in the near future where robots controlled by a single corporation have taken over the vast majority of society. The population is under heavy surveillance and control. The story centers on a young man who is wrongly framed in the media for a wrong he did not carry out. He must strive to clear his name while uncovering some uncomfortable truths about wider society in the process.
By Jack Williamson
This is the first book in Jack Williamson’s series of the same name, and it focuses on a distant planet where a talented creator makes humanoids, robots which have the sole function of serving humanity. The story sees a war develop between the humanoids and the humans which oppose their spread. This may seem like a familiar theme but this is one of the earliest takes on the idea and has been regarded as a classic work of robot scifi for well over half a century.
By Simon Haynes
A Robot Named Clunk is the first instalment of Simon Haynes’ humorous robot science fiction series. The book centers on an incompetent space captain and his robot sidekick. Due to financial troubles, the captain is forced to take a challenging mission, and encounters a series of mishaps and troubles along the way. The story is humorous but also entertaining and full of science fiction fun.
By Caleb Ross
As A Machine and Part is one of the most unique entries on this list due to the format in which its told. The story focuses on a relatable protagonist who develops a strange condition where he gradually transforms into a robot upon waking. The style of the story reflects his transformation with handwritten text gradually transforming into a typed font and then into a machine like instruction manual as the story develops.
By CN James
Bone Machine is set in a world in which the widespread of robots has led to a change in the way people work and the way that wealth is distributed. The story focuses on an investigation into why a robot has decided to kill for the first time. The person tasked with investigating the mystery is also struggling with problems in their personal life. As the story progresses, they unravel a deep and dark mystery behind the robots.
By Ian Tregliss
This is the first instalment in Ian Tegliss’ The Alchemy Wars series. The Mechanical is about a mechanical being which is powered by alchemy. Although it has been created with the sole intention of serving its human masters, it has a yearning for freedom. The story makes use of tropes from both the robot scifi and steampunk genres and is likely to appeal to fans of both.
By Michael Crichton
Westworld has gained a lot of recent attention due to its blockbuster, critically acclaimed TV adaptation, but Michael Crichton’s original book remains worthy of attention. Westworld is set in a land where human like robots have been created in a wild west setting for the sole purpose of amusement. However, the robots begin to gain sentience and a rebellion soon forms.
By Doug Chiang
The hero of Robota is Caps, a powerful protagonist tasked with aiding humanity in its fight for survival. Robots have evolved into powerful warrior beings who are trying to eliminate the last few humans for good. Robota is an incredible work of art as it is accompanied by many concept illustrations from the creative mind behind Star Wars - The Force Awakens and Rogue One. This is a true luxury item for fans of robot science fiction which is enjoyable as a story in its own right.
What Makes a Robot Science Fiction Book?
What's the difference between man and machine?
Is it the sum of moving parts? Bone and musculature versus circuits and steel? Or it is our ability to love and feel instead of pre-programmed logic? Or just maybe, it's the ability to choose and exercise free will.
But what happens when a machine--a robot more specifically--starts to evolve. When calculated logic goes beyond the binary and becomes a true artificial intelligence. How would the created feel about their creators? How does a developed soul compare against a naturally provided one?
These are just some of the ideas explored by robot science fiction novels. There are many common themes found throughout robot novels. The most common of these tending to be curiosity by the robot. Whether or not the robots help usher in a utopia or apocalyptic environment, one thing is certain. They are curious creatures. Robots can't seem to stop pondering the metaphysics of reality.
Isaac Asimov may have explored this concept best with his 1956 short story, "The Last Question". In it, a series of networked computers named Multivac is asked by a different characters how the heat death of the universe can be avoided. How Newton's Second Law of Thermodynamics can be reversed. How the entropy of the universe can be reversed. The story follows the descendants of both man and Multivac with each new generation posing the same question to that of Multivac. Ultimately, the solution is found. (SPOILER ALERT! Who am I kidding... Go read the the story!)
Where did Robots and Robot Science Fiction come from?
The early concept of robots came long before the first use of the term robot. The idea of automated creations is not a new one by any means. As a matter of fact, most ancient civilizations had some form of automated or created life form.
For the Ancient Greeks, Ptolemaic Egypt, and Romans, automated life forms were often postulated or envisioned. These include the artificial doves of Archytas, a speaking automation for the Hero of Alexandria, and Philo's washstand automation. But this comes to little surprise. If you take a look at the Greek god Hephaestus (or his Roman equivalent Vulcan), you will see that this God of the Forge had many mechanically created minions. Robots and religion have often gone hand in hand. Not just in science fiction novels, but in real life as well.
However, the term robot didn't first appear--as we know it today--until 1920 in Karel Capek's play R.U.R. The word "robota" had been around as a Slavic term meaning forced laborer, but had never been applied to automated creations until Capek's play. Karel actually accredits the birth of the term to his brother Josef to helped to inspire him while writing.
Since then, the term has spread like wildfire. Even going through many pronunciation transformations. Originally the word "robot" was pronounced with a long vowel sound on the second "o". So, robot was originally "row-boat". This is most likely due to the accent and pronunciation of its Slavic roots. In the 1960's, the term had evolved into a softer second "o" with "row-but" and "row-bought". Finally, in the 1970's, did the word robot transform into "row-bot" where it has stayed ever since.
Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics
Famous Robots and Androids in Literature
Let's take a look at some of the most famous Robots and Androids throughout history.
- The Golem- In Jewish folklore, the Golem is an animated creature made out of clay. The Golem is often seen as a hulking humanoid devoid of the ability to speak. Golems are said to be controlled via "shem"--or one of the ritualistic names of God defined by the Kabbalah. These shem are written on a piece of paper which is then placed inside the golem's mouth. In many renditions of the Golem story, the golem is seen as a protector figure.
- Frankenstein's Monster- Although teetering the line between horror and science fiction, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein embraces the core concepts of Robot Science Fiction. Instead of being constructed from metal and wire, the Monster is created out of corpses. When brought to life, it truly is a terrifying creature. However, the monster is widely misunderstood as it primarily desired happiness and companionship.
- Rossum's Universal Robots (R.U.R)- These robots were not only the first machinations to be known as "robots" but also the first to depict a machine takeover. These robots also fall under the variety known as androids--artificially created life (normally out of fleshy bits) made to resemble humans.
- The Stepford Wives- In Ira Levin's satirical SciFi Thriller, the Stepford Wives are a group of engineered robotic women created to be subservient, beautiful housewives to the men of the town of Stepford.
- The Iron Giant- Originally dubbed The Iron Man (changed due to prevent confusion with the Marvel character of the same name), The Iron Giant is a great example of how robots aren't just a blight on humanity. Ted Hughes' Iron Giant coexists peacefully with residents feeding off of junk and scrap metal. The giant also serves as a protector to Earth when invaded by a Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon.
- Ultron- Created by Marvel writer Roy Thomas, Ultron is the epitome of a bad robot. Ultron has been portrayed in many different Marvel timelines and universes, but one thing remains the same. His desire and ambition to destroy humanity and rule over all. Thankfully, for the Marvel universe, Ultron is always thwarted by the heroic deeds of the Avengers and other superheroes.
Get These Best Robot Books for Free!
If you are interested in getting some of these robotic science fiction books for free, here is a way in which you can do that:
1. Audible's One Month Free Trial: By signing up with a totally free trial of Audible, you can check out any of the titles on this list. You can use the two audiobooks as a great way of checking out the Audible service at no upfront cost. Even if the service doesn’t end up being right for you, you will still have two audiobooks to enjoy.