I don’t know about you, but here at The Realm headquarters we’re all currently obsessed with the HBO show, Westworld. A remake of a 70’s film of the same name (which was originally a novel by Michael Crichton) the show revolves around a Wild West theme park populated by a hoard of robots that have well and truly passed the Turing test. The park is designed as a place for the rich and powerful to come and live out their wildest, most violent fantasies without consequence, and we watch as they make full use of their time in the park.
One of my favourite parts of the show is the way it forces the viewer to question the actions of staff and guests in the park, and the morality around those actions. If we design a robot to love and feel pain just like a human, how can we say it’s ok to inflict these terrors upon them? Why is it okay to murder or maim a robot but not a human, if they experience it in the same way?
These are dilemmas that would be familiar to most science fiction readers, and it’s one of the reasons I love this genre so much. However, we won’t have a new season of Westworld to devour until 2018, so I present to you some of my favourite books and films that will help fill the void:
First published in 1968, this is one of the essential books on artificial intelligence. It focuses on the story of a bounty hunter, Deckard, who is tasked with ‘retiring’ six rogue androids that have escaped and are hiding amongst the human population.
But as Deckard continues on his way, he starts to question if the androids have now moved past being just a combination of metal and circuitry into something more…
FUN FACT: This book was the basis for the film Blade Runner.
On its surface, Never Let Me Go doesn’t look like a science fiction film, but I assure you it is. The film is set in an alternative history and focuses on the lives of Kathy, Tommy and Ruth as they grow up in a secluded boarding school in London. A medical breakthrough in the early 50’s means that human life has extended beyond 100 years. You don’t know much else to begin with and I don’t want to ruin it for you, but just trust me and WATCH THIS FILM. It is brilliant and heartbreaking and you won’t be able to stop thinking about it for days. If you need someone to talk to about it afterwards you can find me on Twitter and we can gush about how amazing it is.
FUN FACT: The film is based on a book of the same name by Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro.
Five years after the death of his wife Alysha, intelligence agent Keona returns to work to work with one purpose — to find out who killed his wife. To do this, he creates an illegal artificial version of his wife built from every digital trace she left behind but things become complicated when he finds himself falling in love with his creation. Soon he discovers that he didn’t know everything about his wife, and starts to wonder if he couldn’t trust his wife, can he trust her copy?
The author, Sam Peters, is a screen writer for TV and this has already been optioned for a TV series by a major production company. It is super thrilling and is a nice change of pace for this genre. See if you can guess the ending!
Released in 2015, Ex Machina was an instant hit within the SFF loving community. A programmer, Caleb, is invited to spend a week at the secluded mansion of his billionaire boss, Nathan. However Nathan has an ulterior motive, in that he wants Caleb to test a humanoid robot that he has created, called Ava.
Ava has already passed the Turing test with flying colours, but Nathan needs to see whether she is genuinely capable of thought and consciousness. This film is super twisty and will have you constantly trying to work out what is going to happen next. Also, it features Oscar Isaac performing one of the greatest dance routines in film history.
FUN FACT: The director and writer of this film, Alex Garland, also wrote the screenplay for Never Let Me Go (which is above and you should have already written down so as to watch later).
GUYS, DON’T JUDGE ME. I love this film. Made by Steven Spielberg in the early 00’s, it can be a little over the top and cheesy (Jude Law is particularly plastic fantastic as a ‘Lover’ robot). But I think it’s one of the most perfect explorations around the problems of developing a robot that is designed purely to feel love for a human, when humans are so flawed.
In the 22nd century, a family is mourning their young son who has slipped into a coma and looks like he will never wake up. To try and help his grieving wife, the husband buys a humanoid 8-year-old boy called David who is incredibly lifelike, and the first robot created who is capable of feeling love.
Everything is perfect, until one day the couple’s son awakens from his coma, and it becomes clear there isn’t enough love in this family for both boys. David is abandoned by his mother who refuses to return him to his makers to be destroyed, and he goes on a journey to find the ‘Blue Fairy’ from the Pinocchio fable so she can turn him into a real boy and his mother will love him again.
This is another film that will break your heart and leave you sobbing into your pillows. I first saw this film when I was 11, and I’ve never been able to forget it.
FUN FACT: This was originally a passion project of Stanley Kubrick’s, but he didn’t feel like he could do it justice until CGI was improved as he didn’t believe a child actor could convey enough emotion for the part of David. Just before his death in 1999 he passed the project on to Spielberg who brought it to the silver screen.
6. Westworld (1973)
Admittedly, I haven’t seen this one yet but I didn’t think that I could really put together a list like this without including the original. I believe the story is quite different to the HBO versions, but all the same it looks filled with delightful 70’s schtick!