I have a very vague memory of a science fiction book I read over ten years ago, and would like to know if this story can be identified.

If I'm not mistaken it involved Plato's cave, or characters who had names like Plato, Socrates and other Greek philosophers. I think that the characters might have been either robots, or cyborgs, or something like that. I feel like it had some aspect of one of the main characters changing, like morphing into a robot or cyborg, or being a robot all along and not realising it. And it might have taken place in some sort of space colony or enclosure. It probably had a twist ending with a reveal, and I'm fairly sure it had a heavy emphasis on philosophy.

I'm fairly sure that the story was somewhat dark or dystopian in some way.


Books it's probably not so far:

  • Anathem - Neal Stephenson
  • Plato's Cave - Poul Anderson
  • The Just City - Jo Walton
  • Caverns of Socrates - Dennis L. McKiernan
  • Ilium / Olympos - Dan Simmons
  • 2
    Just to eliminate another superficial candidate, Poul Anderson's "Plato's Cave" is a Foundation universe story about a Union Robotics robot, but there's only one robot, that two humans have to convince of their humanity so that he will follow their orders to resume operation of the mine.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Sep 18, 2020 at 22:07
  • 2
    Another false trail... Jo Walton's "The Just City" has Plato, Socrates and robots as well as other Greek figures and an artificial "Republic", but it was published in 2015, so couldn't have been read 10 years ago.
    – SteveV
    Sep 19, 2020 at 0:16
  • Very interesting concepts for both, but I don't believe it's either Plato's Cave or The Just City. Thanks for the suggestions!
    – Lou
    Sep 19, 2020 at 9:03
  • 1
    Greg Egan's Diaspora hits a few but not all of the buttons. I don't think it's very likely to be it, but could be worth checking if it rings any bells en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora_(novel)
    – N. Virgo
    Sep 19, 2020 at 13:44

4 Answers 4


Given the description and the other suggestions, I'm hazarding a guess I'm not too confident about, but still seems to somewhat fit.

Might it be Bernard Beckett's Genesis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genesis_(novel))? It's slightly less than fifteen years old so the time frame fits. It's a bit short to be called a science-fiction book -- especially when it's compared to, for instance, Ilium or Olympos.

"The story is dark and dystopian in some way."

One of the focuses of the story is the life of one Adam Forde, member of a secluded, dystopian high-tech community in the Pacific that sealed itself away from the world after war and plague.

"Characters that have Greek names"

There is one Anaximander (the protagonist) and her tutor is Pericles.

"The characters may have been robots, cyborgs, or something like that." (real spoiler alert)

They are.

"An aspect of one of the main characters changing -- a twist ending with a reveal" (real spoiler alert again)

Anaximander is actually "infected" with The Idea which is their sort of original sin, if I recall well? Her tutor knew all along and the exam isn't what it seems it is.

"In a space colony or an enclosure"

Anaximander is taking an important exam, so she's in a confined space for the duration of the novel. Her world is also an island.

"Heavy emphasis with philosophy"

The story of Adam Forde. How, when the outside world was plague ridden, he took all the risks to save a refugee that should have been killed to prevent her from (potentially) contaminating the entire island. The second part of the story, when Adam is in prison with the robot (yet learning) Art. Art is learning from Adam and tries to show him how mistaken and baseless his belief in his own superiority is. There's also the Searle's "Chinese room" thought experiment discussed.

  • 2
    YES! This is exactly it! Thank you so much! I found this book fascinating when I read it, but forgot all about it and only recently was reminded of it.
    – Lou
    Sep 19, 2020 at 13:28
  • 3
    You're welcome! I found this book very interesting as well (even though it took me several attempts to get to the end when I started reading it).
    – Aphelli
    Sep 19, 2020 at 14:07

Given that your memories of it are vague, I will mention a book that hits some points and has some vaguely related connections to the other points.

Caverns of Socrates by Dennis L. McKiernan. Published in 1996 and the cave is in the very title.

It does not involve robots or cyborgs but it does involve a virtual reality in which people are playing a role-playing game without realizing it. It turns dark because the AI is trying to win,

One character is killed both in the VR and out. When the characters outside the VR tried to disconnect the others, the one they try first can not be brought to consciousness and has to be reconnected -- this causes her to vanish and then reappear as a ghost in the VR.

  • 1
    Interesting concept! I don't think it's this one either I'm afraid.
    – Lou
    Sep 19, 2020 at 8:59

You’ve not given us a lot to go on, but it’s just possible that you’re thinking of the 2008 novel Anathem by Neal Stephenson. The characters aren’t robots or cyborgs, but (except for a couple of fairly minor characters) they’re not strictly speaking human, and it does involve a lot of what is effectively Greek (and later) philosophy, though with all of the names changed. It’s also rather more dark and dystopian than it originally appears on the surface.

  • That's an interesting concept for a plot! I've had a look through the summary and it's not ringing any bells for me. I can't recall any more details about whatever this book was at the moment, but if they come to me I'll edit the question.
    – Lou
    Sep 18, 2020 at 20:25

Could it be Dan Simmons' Ilium/Olympos?

I think it fits the boxes: Published about 20 years ago, set in a futuristic/ancient greek setting, with robots (Moravecs) among the main characters. I believe the second book deals with one of the character in a simulation/re-enactment on a finding out about his/her/its 'real' identity.

  • Thanks for the suggestion, I don't think it's this one either unfortunately!
    – Lou
    Sep 19, 2020 at 9:01

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