Artificial Condition (2018) by Martha Wells is the second novella in her “Murderbot” series. I read the first book, All Systems Red when my science-fiction-loving friend made me–by choosing it for book club. She will be thrilled to learn that I voluntarily read Artificial Condition, and I’m now planning on reading the third.
The “murderbot,” or Sec-unit, is a robot with some amount of organic parts. The bot is incredibly smart, powerful, and expensive. Sec-units are usually rented out for various security jobs, and they are controlled with governors that keep them from going rogue. Well, the Murderbot was able to hack its governor and is now an independent thinker. Even though it generally follows company guidelines, it likes to spend whatever free time it can find watching television dramas.
In the first novella, the Sec-unit has more interaction with humans than it’s ever had before. The humans find out that his governor is hacked but don’t tell anyone, and they buy him when everything is done. The Murderbot appreciated its freedom but wanted to strike out on its own to figure things out. Also, Murderbot has some vague memories of a previous job where something happened and the Murderbot slaughtered all the humans around. Murderbot thinks it could have been hacked but wants to figure it out. In Artificial Condition, Murderbot heads back to the mining planet where the massacre happened.
Murderbot is able to sneak on an empty cargo transport by promising the transport (ART) media to watch, but ART is usually a research lab, and ART is much smarter than Murderbot expected. ART helps Murderbot get to the mining installation, helps Murderbot look more like an augmented human than a Sec-unit, and assists him throughout the book.
In order to gain access, Murderbot needs a work order, so on ART’s suggestion, it takes a security job for some humans who had been cheated and are trying to get their research back. Murderbot sees immediately that the humans are walking into a trap, but they’re not ready to listen and Murderbot needs to get over there. While helping the humans, Murderbot is able to get to the scene of the massacre that it can barely remember. There are still a lot of questions, but it’s a start.
I enjoyed this novella, and I’m enjoying this series. Wells left a number of unanswered questions, and I’m eager to find out what will happen. I liked the interaction between Murderbot and ART, Murderbot’s discovery that it can make decisions for itself, and Murderbot’s interaction with humans. My only nitpick is that I sometimes felt that the Murderbot and ART are too invincible. They can do almost anything and control almost anything with little to no effort. It’s fun to read but sometimes I wonder how that could actually work in the real world of the book.
“I didn’t care what humans were doing to each other as long as I didn’t have to a) stop it or b) clean up after it.” (9)
“So they made us smarter. The anxiety and depression were side effects.” (20)
“Sometimes people do things to you that you can’t do anything about. You just have to survive it and go on.” (103)
“If the humans were dead, who would make the media?” (132)
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