Novella Review: Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 2 of The Murderbot Diaries
Publisher: Tor.com (May 8, 2018)
Length: 159 pages
All hail Murderbot! So glad to be back for another round of action and adventure with our favorite SecUnit. I am unequivocally loving these novellas, and it still amazes me how much punch Martha Wells has managed to pack into each slim volume. Artificial Condition is the sequel to All Systems Red, so keep in mind this review may contain spoilers for the first book if you haven’t started the series yet (plus, if you’re still not on the Murderbot Diaries train, you’re really missing out).
Following Murderbot’s leave-taking from its former team of human allies, our protagonist now has a precarious kind of freedom to decide where to take the next step. But with so much of its past shrouded in mystery, Murderbot is resolved to fill in the missing details in its memory bank first, especially given its violent history. There are so many questions still left to answer, such as how Murderbot went rogue in the first place, an event that resulted in a killing spree and the deaths of many humans. Was it Murderbot who hacked and disabled its own governor module, causing the rampage? Or was someone else responsible for those directives? To find out, Murderbot must first uncover where the massacre took place, and to do so it will need to pass itself off as human in order to travel freely.
Just its luck though, Murderbot gets stuck on a transport whose AI sees right through its cover story and disguise. But instead of alerting the authorities, the AI transport, called ART, decides to help Murderbot learn the truth. Together, the two of them narrow their destination down to a mining planet. ART proceeds to help Murderbot with augments and alterations so that it can pose as a human bodyguard and join a research team down to the planet’s facilities, where Murderbot will hopefully find the data it needs.
I always like to say that it’s the characters that bring a book to life and make me feel a connection, and this is especially true of the Murderbot Diaries. Murderbot is a part-organic and part-synthetic android, but its personality, as it were, is also decidedly unlike that of any robot I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about. Murderbot is still constrained by a lot of its original programming, so its voice could not really be considered human by any stretch of the imagination. And yet, it still displays a lot human-like qualities I find endearing, not least of all its love for the campy entertainment feeds. Considering how Murderbot doesn’t even like humans all that much, it’s amusing how fascinated it is by the lives of the ones in its favorite soap operas. Even better is how Murderbot picks up so much of what it knows about human social cues from the fictional characters in shows with names like Worldhoppers and Rose and Fall of Sanctuary Moon—hiliarious!
Artificial Condition also stands out because of the very special relationship between Murderbot and ART. While the humans come into play later in the story, I loved how for the most part this book was all about the two AI. Is this the beginning of a beautiful new friendship? I sure hope so, even if the two of them didn’t exactly get off on the right foot. It was interesting to see how their programming differed, one being a SecUnit with the other being a powerful, albeit often lonely, onboard computer on a long-haul transport ship. Somewhat to my surprise, it was ART who was savvier to the social ways of humans, teaching Murderbot how to blend in (and also pointing out everything Murderbot has been doing wrong, much to our protagonist’s chagrin). This introduction to ART opens up the world a little bit, as we’ve been led to believe thus far that Murderbot is something of an anomaly among AI. With ART, however, we now know there may be other bots floating around that do not always perform in accordance to their programming, which begs the question: what other possibilities are out there?
I, for one, am looking forward to finding out. With each book in The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells continues to expand and explore the personality of her protagonist, putting Murderbot in new situations where it must learn and adapt. Despite being somewhat prickly and a little awkward, Murderbot is charming in its own way, and I just love reading these adventures through the eyes of such a compelling character. I just can’t wait to find out more as Murderbot carries on its investigation to dig up its past and find out more about its identity.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of All Systems Red (Book 1)