There are a lot of great robots in science fiction. In fact, when you think of the science fiction genre, robots are on of the first things that comes to mind. But what makes a robot great? What makes for the best sci-fi robots from books? Is it their capability? Is it their personality? Or something else? Probably it’s a little bit of everything.
Robots have been around in some form or another for a century. In fact the word “robot” was first used in R.U.R, a play by Karel Čapek. Though the very first robotic character is considered to be Tik-Tok, a mechanical man living in Oz. He was created in 1907 by L. Frank Baum and was the inspiration for The Tin Man in Wizard of Oz. It wasn’t until the 1950s that someone attempted to actually build a robot as we know today. He was largely unsuccessful.
As technology continues to advance in our world and robots are becoming a reality, it makes sense that robots would become much more prevalent. Now we think of characters like R2-D2 or the Terminator. Or even Artificial Intelligence like Hal from 2001 A Space Odyssey.
Before we dive in, I do want to say that a lot of these books are by white men. Regrettably in the early years of science fiction that was the demographic that was most published and supported by the book industry. As the industry continues to make strides to more equitable publishing practices hopefully we will be seeing more and more robots written by a more diverse circle of writers in the future. In the meantime, check out Issue #20 of Fiyah Magazine: Love, Death, and Androids for robots in some fascinating short fiction and poetry.
The best sci-fi robots from books, ranked
#10 Galatea from The Bicentennial Man, by Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov is a staple in the American Science fiction genre, so it just makes sense that he’s created one of the best robots in book history. Galatea is a robot who loves to sing and dance and we love that for her.
Part of what makes this story stand out is how it talked about how Robots and Humans interacted. Each robot would have different personalities, and Galatea had one that made her always happy and joyful. She was often the one to break tension and be the comic relief. She inspired a lot of the happy robots we see popping up as science fiction continues to develop. Galatea very much deserves her spot on this list.
#9 Robot From Nufonia Must Fall, by Kid Koala
The concept of a robot falling in love with a human is just such a great foundation for a story. Told in the style of a very simplistic graphic novel this robot is actually the most dear to me in the entire world.
Part of the charm of this robot comes in how it’s drawn, but also because it falls hopelessly in love with a human woman. This heartbreaking story is a beautiful work of science fiction that packs such a punch.
#8 Mosscap from A Psalm for The Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers
Mosscap is a gentle soul who encounters humans for the first time. He is intelligent, friendly, and desperate to learn anything anyone will teach him. While only two books in the Monk & Robot are out at this point, both have packed an emotional punch, and Mosscap was a huge part of that.
I think Mosscap is very likely to be one of the best robots in literary history so I’m putting him on the list even if he’s still a developing character.
Plus, who doesn’t love a Robot who just loves helping everyone he can?
#7 Archos from Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson
Archos is an amazing robot that takes control over the entire world, and you expect me to not put them on the list? Not to mention that his robot poses as a young human boy to gain trust.
There is so much to love (and be terrified of) in Archos. Plus there is something so intrinsic to the science fiction genre where an AI takes over the entire world and starts an apocalypse. Thus, Archos simply must be on this list.
#6 Neuromancer and Wintermute from Neuromancer, by William Gibson
Two of the most influential robots in the literary world has got to be Neuromancer and Wintermute. I mean, you’re going to look at me and tell me that sibling AI’s aren’t the coolest thing you’ve ever heard of? While their goals might not be aligned they are such incredible characters.
Neuromancer in particular has a fully developed personality, and stores a lot of information about people from the past. He carries forth so many amazing stories, and deserves to have a spot on this list.
#5 Erotica Ann from Starstruck, by Elanine Lee and Mw Kaluta
I would be remise if I didn’t bring up the best robot from a graphic novel. Erotica Ann is a pleasure droid who escapes and goes on big adventure. She’s irreverent, hilarious, and always ready for whatever comes next.
One of my favorite things is how un-robot-like she is. Well you never forget that she is an escaped droid, she has all the flaws of a real person and is such a complex character.
#4 Murderbot from All Systems Red, by Martha Wells
Murderbot has everything. It’s funny, it’s empathetic, it doesn’t understand humans at all. Murderbots best quality, in my opinion, is how much it cares for the people around it. Sure humans are confusing, and impulsive, and can be huge jerks sometimes, as much as Murderbot likes to complain it would go to the ends of the earth to protect them.
Murderbot also broke the regulator that controlled it. Instead of them turning into an evil killing machine, it just wants to watch tv. Murderbot is fully obsession with soap operas and generally bad TV. And I love that for them.
Overall murderbot is just a delightful bot with amazing tech, and a genuinely beautiful personality. If you haven’t read any of the Murderbot series, I highly recommend you do!
#3 Adam Link from I, Robot, by Eando Binder
While most people now-a-days think of the 2004 film of the same name, Adam Link is a completely different sort. Adam Links adventures span seven novels and is all about the concept of sentience, and him coming to terms with being a robot.
I think he deserves the bronze medal in part because of how long this character has been around. I, Robot was published in 1939 and is some of the best early science fiction books. He became the inspiration for so many later works in the genre, and holds the hearts of a lot of classic sci-fi fans.
#2 Marv from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
Perhaps one of the most well known robots in the literary world, Marv is just one depressed little guy. Because Hitchiker’s Guide is a satirical work, a funny robot is to be expected. However what makes it even funnier is that the robot isn’t a funny robot. The robot is extremely depressed.
Does Marv do anything? Nope. Is he important to the plot? In no way, shape, or form. So why am I ranking Marv as #2 overall? Partly because he’s an iconic character, and partly because he was one of the first robots to have a non-generic personality.
Not all robots need to serve a purpose in the narrative, and good for them.
#1 The Iron Man from The Iron Man, by Ted Hughes
Originally called The Iron Man the name was later changed to one much more distinct from the superhero: The Iron Giant. Yes, that robot from one of the best cartoon movies ever. I’m giving The Iron Giant the coveted 1st place because it’s easily one of the most recognized robots.
The book is of course different than the movie but I think the joint cultural impact deserves to go down in history as the best literary robot of all time.
These are just a few of the best sci-fi robots from books. If you’re looking for more, be sure to look at some of the best robot books out there. Or, if you’re looking for books that are more about AI, look no further.