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Book Review

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Menace of the Machine
The Rise of AI in Classic Science Fiction


Edited by: Mike Ashley
Publisher: British Library
347 pages
RRP: £8.99
ISBN: 978 0 7123 5242 0
Publication Date: 11 April 2019

We’re a peculiar lot, endlessly inventive, our opposable thumb has created works of extreme beauty and horror, but there has always been a void we can’t quite fill and alone in the night, we long for companionship. We take pets and treat them like people, create magnificent mannequins to mimic life, but what we really want is an intellect similar, even superior to ourselves, so we create machines. But if our machines achieve sentience, what will they really think about their creators...?

Menace of the Machine: The Rise of AI in Classic Science Fiction (2019. 347 pages) is a collection of short stories edited by Mike Ashley, who also contributes a twenty-two and a half page introduction. Ashley has edited a number in the British Library Science Fiction Classics series and the introductions are always worth the reader’s time, being both informative and wide ranging.

Most of the stories emanate from the earlier part of the twentieth century and, on the whole, are negative about the effects of AI. The earlier stories either gloss over how the machines became sentient or present an unconvincing Deus ex Machina by way of explanation. Much of this can be put down to a lack of credible technology to fall back on, rather than a lack of imaginative construction.

Invariably the machines cause havoc by turning on their creators, though there are a couple of amusing stories that take a different tack ranging from machines who go on strike as they are not being paid for their labour, or even Asimov’s short ‘The Inevitable Conflict’ which sees the machines beneficence leading to them covertly taking control of humanities destiny, the better to protect us.

So, you get fourteen stories of man’s hubris leading to disaster, with not even Asimov providing a particularly positive view of AI. Will it all turn out as badly as these authors predict, only time will tell.


Charles Packer

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