Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
The illicit adventures of Murderbot continue in Artificial Condition (2018), the terrific sequel to Martha Wells’ 2017 Nebula award-winning novella, All Systems Red. Murderbot, a deeply introverted cyborg security unit, or SecUnit, who previously hacked the governor software that forced obedience to human commands, has illegally gone off the grid, eschewing the safety of a mostly-free life with a sympathetic owner in order to travel on its own. Disguising itself as an augmented human, Murderbot takes off for the mining facility space station where, it understands, it once murdered a group of humans that it was charged with protecting, though its memory of the event has been mostly erased. (Hence the name Murderbot that it has given itself.)
To get to the mining station, Murderbot hitches a ride with an empty cargo transport, offering to share the many hours of media and entertainment that it has accumulated. But the transport AI turns out to be far more powerful and intelligent than Murderbot had anticipated ― a dangerous situation for Murderbot, who’s in a highly vulnerable position. The transport AI, which Murderbot calls ART (short for Asshole Research Transport), is looking for more than just entertainment media. It actually wants to understand and help Murderbot with its quest.
Once they gets to their destination, at ART’s suggestion, Murderbot (still in disguise as a human) takes a contract as a security guard for a technologist group of humans who are planning to travel to the same area of the station as the installation where the deadly incident in Murderbot’s past occurred. This gives Murderbot a convenient excuse for being in this isolated area, and it intends to use its spare time to investigate the incident, which has been hidden from the public. But, as in All Systems Red, Murderbot finds that when others need its help and expertise, it’s hard to remain emotionally disengaged.
Artificial Condition was, for me, an even more entertaining story and mystery than All Systems Red. I found the plot fresher overall, with its interweaving of the treacherous plotting surrounding the technologist group that Murderbot is protecting, and Murderbot’s investigation of the disaster in its own past. In the process of discovering more about its prior life, Murderbot also discovers more about itself, and there are hints of some possible connections between the past incident and the current one, in addition to some thematic ties.
The human characters were diverse and fairly well-drawn, but the characters that really engaged me were the artificial intelligences. Murderbot continues to develop depth as a character, and its snark (often about the idiocies of humans) adds an enjoyable dose of humor to the story.
I phrased it as a question, because pretending you were asking for more information was the best way to try to get the humans to realize they were doing something stupid. “So do you think there’s another reason Tlacey wants you to do this exchange in person, other than … killing you?”
Murderbot also grows in self-awareness through its experiences. Some interactions with a ComfortUnit (the euphemism for a sexbot) lead to a deeper appreciation for the freedoms it does have, and for using one’s freedom of choice to help others in need. In particular, I loved the rather bossy transport AI ART, and ART’s determined insertion of itself into Murderbot’s life and concerns, despite Murderbot’s reluctance to allow it in. Sometimes resistance really is futile … but that’s not always a bad thing.
The third novella in the MURDERBOT DIARIES series, Rogue Protocol, is due to be published in August 2018. I’m anxious to see where Murderbot’s journey takes us next.
I love Murderbot. In this novella, I especially loved its interactions with ART. The audiobook, narrated by Kevin R. Free, is OK. I don’t think he’s got Murderbot’s voice just right, but it’s fine.
It’s hard to know what to say about Artificial Condition that hasn’t already been covered by Tadiana and Kat! I, too, love Murderbot. And I love ART so much; while I understand why Murderbot would think this research transport bot is an asshole, especially because it keeps doing things like making Murderbot honestly confront its feelings.
Where All Systems Red introduced readers to Murderbot, Artificial Condition introduces Murderbot to Murderbot — and that might sound strange, but roll with this for a moment. Murderbot thinks it knows where and when and why it hacked its own governor module, but is also aware that this information might be inaccurate. Murderbot thinks it knows how to interact with humans outside of the parameters of its normal duties as a SecUnit, but its first job working for three young fugitive technologists proves, repeatedly, that it still has a lot to learn. And by showing us the barest outlines of a research transport bot’s vast intellect and capabilities, Murderbot’s ongoing journey of self-discovery, and a ComfortUnit’s struggles against its programming, Martha Wells deepens the reader’s understanding of how technologically sophisticated this world-hopping civilization is while laying bare how little humans have changed with regard to how they treat one another and their various possessions.
Murderbot’s search for answers filled in some key story gaps for me, while opening the way for further explorations into its past and future. I’m primed to jump right into Rogue Protocol, in which I hope Murderbot is reunited with Dr. Mensah and the rest of her team (and finds some new media to become obsessed with).
There is no doubt about it; I have to start reading Martha Wells.
I am actually reading Martha Wells right now (Raksura). I’m enjoying it.
I keep seeing great reports about Murderbot. Putting that on my TBR now.
I’ve been buying ARCs (I buy the official versions too) because I don’t want to wait for the next installment.
Someone called her books competence porn…which is true for a character or two, but it’s more that her characters won’t stop. They just keep trying. They’re also intelligent and quick-witted and snarky…don’t forget snarky. They might make a bad decision but it’s never a stupid one.
In one of the books, there’s a political opponent trying to derail an agreement…the main character completely derails the opponent. It’s terrific!