When it comes to sci-fi books like Murderbot, few can truly live up to the hype. I mean there’s a reason so many of us have become obsessed with Murderbot and it’s because nothing else is quite like Murderbot. Um, hold on, I can see you thinking. That’s the premise of this whole article, isn’t it? You’re about to tell us all the books are exactly like Murderbot. Well, kind of yeah, but we want to go into this with appropriate expectations, right? Right. So none of these book are Murderbot exactly—only Murderbot itself can claim that distinction—but they do all contain robots and AI and (for the most part) spacefaring companions solving mysteries or fighting back against injustice in the galaxy. Which is kind of the next best thing, right?
So, acknowledging that none of these books are going to follow the travails of a SecUnit who loves to watch The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon (and I image Martha Wells would have some pointed questions if any of them did), let’s take a look at eight other sci-fi books that, like Murderbot, feature AI and robots that you just can’t help but love. Who knows, you might just find a second favorite book.
Activation Degradation by Marina J. Lostetter
The first time Unit Four is activated in the Jovian atmosphere, it is in crisis mode. Earth’s largest energy source, the Helium-3 mines Unit Four was created to oversee, are being attacked by aliens. Its only directive is seek and destroy. But something is amiss in Unit Four’s systems: files are missing and information on the invading aliens is suspiciously sparse. With nothing more to work on, Unit Four is set to proceed with its mission. Instead, it becomes caught up in a whirlwind of misinformation, reprograming, and interstellar conflict. And Unit Four will never be the same.
We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen
This locked room mystery set on a spaceship doesn’t seem to have much to do with robots or AIs from the offset. It’s all about a psychologist who is trying to figure out what is causing a series of strange symptoms in her crewmates. But interspersed with all of that is Dr. Grace Park’s history with androids, from the companion who meant everything to her growing up to the android crewmates she alone stands up for now on the Deucalion. And with the androids succumbing to the symptoms overtaking the crew as well, the question still remains: what, exactly, is going on here and why are certain members of the crew so determined to hide it?
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
The second book in Becky Chambers’ acclaimed Wayfarers series explores AI in a big way. A rebooted AI wakes up in a human body after a total system shutdown. Once, she was confined to a ship. But now, Lovelace must learn how to navigate a universe where it is illegal for an AI to possess a body even as she learns for the first time what it means to have a body herself. Alongside her story is that of Pepper, a friend helping her fit in who has an unusual connection to AI herself. It’s much more philosophical than Murderbot and features far less, well, murder, but the ideas about controlling sentient beings and independent artificial intelligence definitely draws a bridge between the two.
Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie
The surgery that Aisha Un-Haad and other Scela like her undergo to become mechanically enhanced soldiers definitely reminds me of the procedure Murderbot must’ve gone through in order to become Murderbot. And just like SecUnits, the Scela are expected to obey and follow orders at all costs. That can be a tall order, especially with violence and rebellion brewing and some among the Scela themselves questioning their loyalty to the Fleet.
The All-Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw
A woman who has died and been resurrected into countless cyborg bodies during her time as part of the infamous Dirty Dozen reunites with her gang for one last mission, to rescue a lost and much-changed comrade. But they’re not the only ones in search of the secret at the heart of the planet Dimmuborgir. The highly-evolved AI of the galaxy are determined never to let humans control the universe again, which means this band of half-clone, half-machine former criminals will have to face off against sapient spaceships in order to set their affairs in order once and for all.
Rosebud by Paul Cornell
The Rosebud is made up of a crew of five digital beings condemned to work on a small survey ship for over three hundred years by the all-powerful Company. Their objective is clear: survey, obtain objects, report to the Company, earn lots of praise. But when the ship malfunctions on their approach toward a mysterious sphere, the crew has no choice but to survey the object for themselves. What they discover will change them, the company, and all of existence, and that’s just for a start.
The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang
A former zoologist turned software tester takes on a new job as an animal trainer for digients (think advanced Neopets) created as pets for players in a future virtual reality. She and others working on the project become increasingly attached to their creatures — not quite pet, not quite child, but something in between and entirely new. But as interest for digenites waxes and wanes and the company that created them as well as the digital world they exist in goes bust, the question of what to do with these creatures and their growing awareness of the pocket universe around them becomes more and more complicated.
The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard
Set in Bodard’s Xuya universe, where sentient ships called mindships house exiled scholars and powerful families, The Tea Master and the Detective follows a transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury and an eccentric scholar who drags the ship into a murder investigation. The Shadow’s Child expects a quick and easy assignment when the scholar Long Chau asks for a corpse for the purposes of scientific study. But when Chau discovers that the corpse was murdered, she drags The Shadow’s Child into an investigation that implicates her own past. A detective story following a disgraced scholar and a sentient spaceship certainly sounds like something any Murderbot fan would like to me. But don’t take my word for it; read it yourself.
What do you mean that wasn’t enough books about robots and AI for you? You need even more? Well, okay, if you insist.