Top Picks: Technopolis

We’ve had a strong year of SFF books all about tech, AI and robotronic action. We’ve drawn up a list of our favourites. New releases and favourites, of course kicking off with this year’s literary sensation Klara and the Sun.

Title summaries and copy taken from/provided by the publisher.

Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber and Faber)

‘This is a novel for fans of Never Let Me Go . . . tender, touching and true.’ The Times

In Klara and the Sun, his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro looks at our rapidly-changing modern world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator to explore a fundamental question: what does it mean to love?

‘The Sun always has ways to reach us.’

The novel tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behaviour of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass in the street outside. She remains hopeful a customer will soon choose her, but when the possibility emerges that her circumstances may change for ever, Klara is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.

A thrilling feat of world-building, a novel of exquisite tenderness and impeccable restraint, Klara and the Sun is a magnificent achievement, and an international literary event.

Novels like this don’t come around often. When a well-known writer takes their pen to a genre they’ve scarcely covered, magical things tend to happen. Sure enough, Klara has captured readers new to SFF in the process of making magic. The result is a delicate tale with questions of humanity at its core.

The Actuality, Paul Braddon (Sandstone Press)

‘Exquisite… Not since Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep have I felt so strongly about where artificial intelligence might lead us. Highly recommended.’ – Christina Dalcher, author of VOX

‘She belongs to me – property rights would prevail.’

Evie is a near-perfect bioengineered human. In a broken-down future England where her kind has been outlawed, her ‘husband’ Matthew keeps her safe but hidden. When her existence is revealed, she must take her chances on the dark and hostile streets where more than one predator is on the hunt.

This won’t be news to you, but we love this book. There are beautiful echoes between The Actuality and Klara and the Sun in how the novelists capture the narrative of an innocent girl AI – at her purest and most un-jaded. Through this lens, the world is exciting and terrifying. Optioned for TV by BBC Studios, this may not be the last we see of Evie and the world of The Actuality. Whatever Braddon writes next, we’ll be reading. The same goes for Sandstone Press.

Recursion, Blake Crouch (Pan Macmillan)

Recursion takes mind-twisting premises and embeds them in a deeply emotional story about time and loss and grief and most of all, the glory of the human heart’ – Gregg Hurwitz, international bestselling author of Orphan X

A breathtaking exploration of memory and what it means to be human, Recursion is the follow-up novel to the smash-hit thriller, Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch.

At first, it looks like a disease. An epidemic that spreads through no known means, driving its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

But the force that’s sweeping the world is no pathogen. It’s just the first shockwave, unleashed by a stunning discovery – and what’s in jeopardy is not just our minds.

In New York City, Detective Barry Sutton is closing in on the truth – and in a remote laboratory, neuroscientist Helena Smith is unaware that she alone holds the key to this mystery… and the tools for fighting back.

Together, Barry and Helena will have to confront their enemy – before they, and the world, are trapped in a loop of ever-growing chaos.

With hints of Total Recall, Recursion asks questions of human memory and how far it can bend. What if you could remember every memory with perfect clarity through technology? Neuroscientist Helena Smith wants to make this breakthrough. Meanwhile NYPD cop Barry Sutton discovers a brain condition called False Memory Syndrome – where victims realise all their past experiences aren’t real, and remember another life, their real life, driving them to madness. Crouch’s ability to write a relentless page turner shines in Recursion, and due to its subject matter there is a strong emotional depth at the core of the book. Ultimately for humans, memories define us, so exploring this produces astute observations of human identity. This novel will make you question time, memory and life.

The Hierarchies, Ros Anderson (Dead Ink Books)

A treat of a tale told through the compelling diary of Sylv.ie, a sex doll. By turns, fun, fascinating and dark, it plays with ideas of power, love, sex and what it means to be human. The Hierarchies is a propulsive debut subtly fizzing with the off-beat excitement of (to borrow Sylv.ie’s words) ‘a tango for titanium and bone’.” Kiare Ladner, author of Nightshift

Your Husband is the reason for your existence. You are here to serve him. You must not harm your Husband. Nor may you harm any human.

Sylv.ie is a synthetic woman. A fully sentient robot, designed to cater to her Husband’s every whim. She lives alone on the top floor of his luxurious home, her existence barely tolerated by his human wife and concealed from their child.

Between her Husband’s visits, deeply curious about the world beyond her room, Sylv.ie watches the family in the garden – hears them laugh, cry, and argue. Longing to experience more of life, she confides her hopes and fears only to her diary. But are such thoughts allowed? And if not, what might the punishment be?

Machinehood, S. B. Divya (Galley/Saga Press (Simon and Schuster)

From the Hugo Award nominee S.B. Divya, Zero Dark Thirty meets The Social Network in this science fiction thriller about artificial intelligence, sentience, and labor rights in a near future dominated by the gig economy.

Welga Ramirez, executive bodyguard and ex-special forces, is about to retire early when her client is killed in front of her. It’s 2095 and people don’t usually die from violence. Humanity is entirely dependent on pills that not only help them stay alive, but allow them to compete with artificial intelligence in an increasingly competitive gig economy. Daily doses protect against designer diseases, flow enhances focus, zips and buffs enhance physical strength and speed, and juvers speed the healing process.

All that changes when Welga’s client is killed by The Machinehood, a new and mysterious terrorist group that has simultaneously attacked several major pill funders. The Machinehood operatives seem to be part human, part machine, something the world has never seen. They issue an ultimatum: stop all pill production in one week.

Global panic ensues as pill production slows and many become ill. Thousands destroy their bots in fear of a strong AI takeover. But the US government believes the Machinehood is a cover for an old enemy. One that Welga is uniquely qualified to fight.

Welga, determined to take down the Machinehood, is pulled back into intelligence work by the government that betrayed her. But who are the Machinehood and what do they really want?

A thrilling and thought-provoking novel that asks: if we won’t see machines as human, will we instead see humans as machines?

Sea of Rust, C. Robert Cargill (Orion Books)

An action-packed post-apocalyptic thriller from the screenwriter of Marvel’s DOCTOR STRANGE

HUMANKIND IS EXTINCT
.

Wiped out in a global uprising by the very machines made to serve them. Now the world is controlled by OWIs – vast mainframes that have assimilated the minds of millions of robots.

But not all robots are willing to cede their individuality, and Brittle is one of the holdouts.

After a near-deadly encounter with another AI, Brittle is forced to seek sanctuary in a city under siege by an OWI. Critically damaged, Brittle must evade capture long enough to find the essential rare parts to make repairs – but as a robot’s CPU gradually deteriorates, all their old memories resurface.

For Brittle, that means one haunting memory in particular…

A Strange and Brilliant Light, Eli Lee (Quercus Publishing)

A riveting, thought-provoking speculative literary novel exploring the impact of the AI revolution through the eyes of three very different young women.

Lal, Janetta and Rose are living in a time of flux. Technological advance has brought huge financial rewards to those with power, but large swathes of the population are losing their jobs to artificial intelligence, or auts, as they’re called. Unemployment is high, discontent is rife and rumours are swirling. Many feel robbed – not just of their livelihoods, but of their hopes for the future.

Lal is languishing in her role at a coffee shop and feeling overshadowed by her quietly brilliant sister, Janetta, whose Ph.D. is focused on making auts empathetic. Even Rose, Lal’s best friend, has found a sense of purpose in charismatic up-and-coming politician Alek.

When vigilantes break in to the coffee shop and destroy their new coffee-making aut, it sets in motion a chain of events that will pull the three young women in very different directions.

Change is coming – change that will launch humankind into a new era. If Rose, Lal and Janetta can find a way to combine their burgeoning talents, they might just end up setting the course of history.