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8 Novels Featuring Artificial Intelligence

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Recent developments in AI are unsettling and even scary. Is a computer going to take your job? Quite possibly. However, if you’re a writer of fiction, the giant leaps made by artificial intelligence present a something of a gift. Although a protagonist who turns out not to be entirely human is not a new conceit, the scope for near-future or alternative-present stories featuring characters who might not even know that they’re powered by AI is huge, and fiction is responding.

In my book, The New One, a family with a difficult daughter almost lose her after a hit and run accident. She’s in a coma, and hope is draining away, until the family are offered a lifeline in the form of a medical trial and new life in Geneva. Is this too good to be true? (spoiler: yes). A new daughter, cloned and boosted by AI, joins her parents in their new luxurious life, but this one is fine-tuned to be perfect. So, what happens when the original wakes up and finds an interloper has taken her place?

The sentient AI is appearing in more and more stories, as writers follow, and then leapfrog beyond, the science. These books have all engaged with it in different ways:


The Perfect Wife by JP Delaney

Abbie wakes up realizing that she’s been in an accident, only to discover that actual Abbie has died and her mad-tech-billionaire husband has reanimated her as a robot with his dead wife’s memories and personality. But what really happened to human Abbie, and why is new-Abbie getting messages from a stranger? As the replacement wife secretly follows the trail left by her previous self, the real story, intercut with a POV apparently from one of her husband’s employees, starts to unfold. This thriller twists and turns and gets the reader fully on the side of the robot wife as a darker and scarier reality emerges.


Every Line of You by Naomi Gibson

Teenage Lydia is brilliant at coding. She loves Henry — Henry is the only one who just gets her, and with her dysfunctional and tragic family background, he gives her the stability and understanding she craves. There’s just one problem: Henry has no body. He started as a line of code and has grown into a sentient and charismatic AI, Lydia’s only friend. With Henry’s help Lydia confronts her problems in a way that goes beyond empowerment and into something altogether darker. When a mysterious government agent starts taking an interest in the hacking that Lydia and Henry are doing together things spiral, and the peace Lydia has always craved recedes over the horizon.


A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

This second book in the wonderful Wayfarers series features Lovelace, the AI system of the Wayfarer, who was transferred to a humanoid body at the end of book one but lost all her memories as she did so. Here, she has to orient herself and start afresh. We’re with her every step of the way as she adjusts to seeing through two eyes rather than numerous cameras, works out how to walk, and moves among humans as one of them while programmed never to lie. Chambers is brilliant at showing a logical system working out how to navigate life, and I rooted for Lovelace / Sidra throughout. The whole Wayfarers series is absorbing and compassionate, and this might be my favorite volume.


Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

The first-person narrative by Klara, a solar-powered Artificial Friend (AF), details her journey from shop floor to being chosen by teenager Josie as her companion, and then to a new life in the countryside in near-future America. Ishiguro goes deeply into the AI’s worldview, giving us an AI’s perspective on religion (Klara is powered by, and so reveres, the sun), on love, and on humanity seen through non-human eyes. He leads the reader to fill in the blanks ourselves, to start to understand the things Klara doesn’t — particularly the question of what Klara’s role really is in Josie’s family. The ending of this novel has stayed with me for a long time.


The Fear Index by Robert Harris

The AI here is an algorithm created to make huge amounts of money on the financial markets in an alternative 2010. It was built by reclusive physicist Dr Alexander Hoffman for his fund, Hoffman Investments, but as the book opens it’s growing exponentially more powerful and ambitious, having broken away from human control and ultimately declaring itself ‘alive’. This AI, VIXAL, buys books and art, installs cameras, engages hitmen: it’s a speedy and entertaining read set squarely in the world of superrich white men.


Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum

This is a book for young children told from the perspective of Ivy, an android companion who has a certain amount in common with Ishiguro’s Klara. Sarah, Ivy’s human, actually wanted a dog and starts off being mean, but even though one can switch the other off, a touching friendship eventually blooms between them. When Ivy is in extreme danger of being recalled and destroyed, the two girls need to work together to save her. A deceptively simple middle grade book, with a charming AI protagonist trying to navigate logically in an illogical world.


Foe by Iain Reid

Junior and his wife Henrietta live remotely on a farm. When a stranger, Terrance, turns up, their world is turned upside down: Junior has been randomly selected to spend two years at the Installation, a space station orbiting Earth. While he is away, he will be replaced by a replica of himself, so Hen won’t be lonely.

As Terrance’s visits to prepare the couple for what is to come increase, so do tensions. What exactly is going on here? This is an unnerving read from the author of I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and strangely, the key to the whole story lies in its punctuation.


Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I’m sorry, but I can’t leave this off. Frankenstein’s monster isn’t an AI in the same way as the others on this list, but this book is the mother of all artificial human narratives. You know the story: Victor Frankenstein makes his creature and brings it to life, shapes it by his own responses, and loses control. I set The New One in Geneva as a tiny homage to Shelley, and Harris, in The Fear Index, has done the same.



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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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