Artificial Condition: AI’s with real personalities and concerns

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells fantasy book reviewsArtificial Condition by Martha Wells science fiction book reviewsArtificial 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.

~Tadiana Jones


Artificial Condition by Martha Wells science fiction book reviewsI 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. 

~Kat Hooper

Published May 8, 2018. Artificial Condition is the follow-up to Martha Wells’s Nebula Award-winning, New York Timesbestselling All Systems Red. It has a dark past—one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more. Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the “A” stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue. What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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3 comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

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