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Robots, Fantasy, and Steampunk: 3 books with More Romance, less science


Fantasy and steampunk seems like the antithesis of robotics, with mysteries and incantations vying with logic and numbers. But three scifi books (well five if you count the three in The Alchemy Wars) incorporate some aspects of real robots.

The Alchemy Wars by Ian Tregillis. A three book series is set in an alternative universe where Christian Huygens creates robots, giving the Netherlands the economic edge over France- and pretty much the entire world. The Dutch, as Calvinists, see robots as mere machines and destined for nothing more than servitude, the French, as Catholics, see robots as having souls and being enslaved. Two hundred years later, the robot protagonist Jax is able to escape and the adventure begins. Besides a thoughtful take on the ethics and metaphysics of robot intelligence, some nice riffs on rule-based implementations (and why they tend to fail in real life). See the longer discussion here.

Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson. Somewhat of a departure from Wilson’s factual technothrillers such as Robopocalypse. Instead of Christian Huygens creating robots and exploring an alternative universe with the Netherlands and France, we have Peter the Great resurrecting ancient robots, "avtomats" (automats), which might have originated in China. Rumored to being made into a movie- don’t wait, read this now! Great insights into the history of real automata.

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden. Fantasy doesn’t have to be in alternative universe fret with fighting and depressing geopolitics, it can be twenty minutes into the future and ROFL funny. You will want Clever 4-1 as your minion, even if you don’t have a pantheon of South African gods going after you. The book touches on topics such as robots having emotions. See the longer discussion here.


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