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Meet the Robots Next Door: Autonomous, The Clockwork Dynasty, Humans, and Doug Unplugged

4 Apr

More and more robots are in the news from DARPA/Boston Dynamic’s Big Dog, a futuristic pack mule, to Hiroshi Ishiguro’s AI robot, Erica, which can converse on 20 different subjects.  It makes me question what the world will be like surrounded by machines that someday may be able to not just think, but also feel.  Check out these visions of what our robotic future could hold.

Autonomous
by Annalee Newitz
Autonomous

Autonomous is the debut novel from the founder of the Science Fiction Website io9, Annalee Newitz.  Autonomous follows Jack, a Robin Hood of pharmaceutical patents who is trying to fix the catastrophic results from her latest reengineering of a productivity drug that has caused its users to stop eating, drinking and sleeping due to an all-consuming desire to work.  International Property Coalition Agent, Eliasz and his indentured robot partner Paladin are hot on Jack’s trail and unexpectedly find love in a future where robots and human uneasily coexist.  Newitz imagines a world where humans can be indentured as well as robots since the theory is if it is ethical to enslave one type of sentient being than it is justified to allow humans who cannot afford to live on their own the same “option.”  Autonomous deals with a variety of social and philosophical issues including rights to health care, gender identity, corporate responsibility, and what being autonomous means for not only robots, but humans as well.

The Clockwork Dynasty
by Daniel H. Wilson
Clockwork Dynasty

Robots are not a new concept with automatons dating back a hundred years.  In Japan’s Edo Era, the  karakuri ningyo, a type of mechanical dolls could pour tea, shoot arrows, and even paint Kanji characters.  While Newitz focuses on the robots of the future, Wilson looks back to these earlier mechanical dolls and imagines a world where robots have been secretly living with us for centuries.  The main action of The Clockwork Dynasty jumps from the current day when a brilliant grad student studies early automatons and 1725 in Russia, when the Czar Peter the Great has secretly had Peter and Elena, two avtomats, carrying out secret missions for him.  The Avtomat, as the robots, are called in The Clockwork Dynasty reminded me of the folk tales of golems since each golem was activated by a word such as truth, and each of the avtomats have a guiding principal they are programed to uphold.  The relationship between the adult bodied Peter and the child bodied Elena reminded me of the relationship of Louise and Claudia in Interview with the Vampire, where the differences in their appearance impact their experience of immortality and relationship with one another.  For those who enjoy The Clockwork Dynasty also check out Wilson’s novels Robopocalipsis and Robogenesis, as well as his humorous non-fiction, How to Survive a Robot Uprising.

Humans
Humans

I recently started catching up on episodes of Humans, which is available to stream from Hoopla.  Humans is set in the UK in the near future when robots called synths have replaced much of the workforce and act as maids, babysitters, and more.  The Hawkins family has just acquired a new synth Rita and each reacts differently to her presence with father Joe feeling it fills the void left by his wife while at work, his youngest daughter views her as a doll come to life, his wife is suspicious of her and sees her as a threat to her family safety, their older daughter is angry that her future is limited by the synths like Rita taking all her job opportunities, and their teenage son views her as an object of adolescent desire.  What none of them realize is that Rita is part of a group of synths that cannot just mimic humans, but has also gained consciousness.  The series is based on the Swedish series Real HumansHumans will appeal to fans of drama as well as science fiction.  Hoboken Resident Library Card Holders, check out the first two seasons on Hoopla before the third season debuts later this year on TV.

Doug Unplugged
by Dan Yaccarino
Doug Unplugged

The previous entries all contain violence and other adult content not appropriate for a younger audience, but of course the concept of robots is one that has long been intriguing to children.  My son is a fan of them so was delighted with another title available from Hoopla, Doug Unplugged.  Dan Yaccarino’s Doug Unplugged is a charming picture book which features bold colors and retro-futuristic illustrations.  Doug’s parents leave him plugged in to learn all about the city where he lives, but he discovers when he unplugs himself and explores on his own that nothing beats experiencing something for oneself; this is an important lesson for our screen addicted times.  You can either check out the print version available at our pop up branch or check out a Hoopla version which animates some of the drawings and features a read along to the narration to assist your emerging reader.  Also available in print and from Hoopla is Doug Unplugs on the Farm.

Want more robots?  Check out my previous posts discussing Isaac Assimov’s I, Robot and Charles Stross’s Neptune’s Brood.
Written By Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

40 Years of Favorite Part Three: My Favorites From My Thirties

14 Feb

In honor of my milestone 40th birthday I created lists of books I loved as a child/teen and 20 something.  I’m finishing out my 40th year with a look at favorite books in my thirties.

31. Little, Big by John Crowley

little-big

One of the member of the library’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club, recently brought up this work and I remember how much I enjoyed reading it as an enjoyable escape while stuck in bed while recovering from the flu. Little, Big features a charming extended family living in a 19th Century mansion surrounded by a fairy filled forest. The enchanting novel is told from multiple family members perspectives.

32. Stardust by Neil Gaiman

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I’ve talked in previous posts about my love of Neil Gaiman.  Another of his novels besides American Gods and Neverwhere that I have enjoyed is Stardust, which was adapted as a film in 2007 starring Claire Danes. The novel has a charming fairy tale like quality, with its story about a young man’s search for a fallen star to give to his beloved and is surprised to learn that star has a human form.  You have the option with the novel of the illustrated version or an updated version without illustrations.

33. Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair and 34. Shades of Grey

eyre-affair.jpgshades-grey

Jasper Fforde is one of my favorite authors. His work is uniquely quirky, which I love. His Thursday Next series beginning with The Eyre Affair, is about a literary detective who can literally jump into books and interact with the character there.  She has a pet dodo bird and a relative who travels through time.  For teens and adults who enjoy YA fiction, check out his Last Dragonslayer series.  I am eagerly awaiting the next in the Shades of Grey series, the original book of that name is now subtitled in later editions The Road to High Saffron, imagines a dystopian reality where everyone’s social class is determined by the specific colors they can see.

35. Fantasy Works of Kage Baker

house-stag

I had previously written in another post about one of my favorite Science Fiction series, The Company by Kage Baker, about immortelle cyborg who live forward perpetually in time. Besides that series, Baker also wrote several novels set in a fantasy world including The House of the Stag, The Anvil of the World, and The Bird of the River which can be checked out from BCCLS libraries. Like her science fiction works, the characters in her fantasy novels are complex and the stories thought provoking.

36. Donna Andrew’s Meg Langslow Mystery Series

gone-gull

I love Meg Langslow’s quirky mysteries. Like many in the cozy genre they all have a theme, in this case all in some way involve birds, which is unexpected considering that Meg isn’t an ornithologist, but a blacksmith. I discovered Andrews, after she had written several books in the series and I remember spending one summer reading one book after another.  Andrews had two new books out last year Gone Gull at the beginning of August and How the Finch Stole Christmas at the end of October, both of which I highly enjoyed.

37. Kerry Greenwood’s Mysteries

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Kerry Greenwood is my favorite mystery author so though I have written about her previously, I can’t resist mentioning her again.  Check out her fabulous Phryne Fisher series about a flapper in Australia or her contemporary series about baker Corrina Chapman.  Quirky characters are found throughout both.  Greenwood went on a bit of a writing hiatus, but she is currently working on her next Corrina mystery and fellow Phryne fans can check out her short story “Taking the Waters” in her American Publisher Poisoned Pen Presses 20th anniversary collection Bound by Mystery published last year.

38. Gail Carriger’s Steampunk Series

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I’ve probably written more about Gail Carriger’s works than any other author for this blog. I love the humor that infuses her cool supernatural steampunk, which also features a dash of romance. Check out her Parasol Protectorate series, Custard Protocol series, and Finishing School series and see if you agree!  The latest in the Custard Protocol series Competence is scheduled to be released in July.

39. Robin Paige’s Victorian/Edwardian Mystery Series

darling-dahlias

Robin Paige is the pen name of William and Susan Albert Wittig. In one of my first blog posts back in 2013, I discussed Susan Albert Witting’s Darling Dahilia series which is set in the 1930’s. I had discovered the Victorian-Edwardian Mysteries after the series had been completed and was re-released in paperback.  Although it can be sad when you learn there won’t be any more of something you love, it can also be delightful getting to binge on a series that has been completed.  I found the couple at the center of the mysteries charming and there is something sweet about knowing they were brought to life by a married duo of writers.  Part of the reason the series was ended was the amount of research it took the authors to achieve the authenticity of the books and you will come away with interesting knowledge of different aspects of the eras.

40. Jennifer Arena’s 100 Snowmen

100-snowmen

To end this list I decided to pick a recent favorite picture book read that I enjoy sharing with my son, since I know my love of books started early with my mom reading to me as a child and my dad passing on worn copies of his favorite speculative fiction when I was a teenager. My son loves math so much he is even fond of doing addition problems before bed along with me reading to him. Jennifer Arena’s 100 Snowmen combines his love of math with my love of reading as on each page there are simple addition problems to add up the Snowmen doing fun activities from snowball fights to hide and seek.  A fun read to checkout this winter with the kids in your life.

Tell us about some of your favorite reads from the various decades of your life in our comment section!

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

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