Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

Artificial Condition
by Martha Wells
Tom Doherty Associates, 2018

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Last year’s All Systems Red, the first in a series of novellas titled The Murderbot Diaries, introduced the latest snarky AI to the science fiction genre with Murderbot, the self-nicknamed security robot for hire who binge-watches various forms of media and entertainment when not protecting its human contracts. Murderbot, part robot and part human construct, spends most of story obsessively attempting to remember a prior job in which past employers were all murdered, assuming itself being the murderer. Not wanting to risk another possible murder spree, Murderbot hacks into its governor module in secret, gaining autonomy instead of being controlled by its company and those it is sent to protect.

2018 will see the four-book story completed, with the remaining three novellas being released. The first of those is Artificial Condition, which follows the now rogue Murderbot on its travels to unravel the mystery of its past and the destruction of its former employers. 

Artificial Condition opens up the world of The Murderbot Diaries, given that the first entry in the series followed Murderbot around with its current employers aboard their craft. This second entry allows Murderbot to stretch its mechanical limbs on its journey to the site of the massacre from the past so that it can learn what really happened. It even introduces another breakout non-human character named ART, a research transport vessel, empty of humans, who both annoys and assists Murderbot along the way. Murderbot comes across a new group of humans who sidetrack it from its attempt to learn more about its past. This occurs because Murderbot becomes more self-aware and cares about more than itself and its next binge watch:

In my feed, ART turned down the soundtrack to say, Young humans can be impulsive. The trick is keeping them around long enough to become old humans. This is what my crew tells me and my own observations seem to confirm it.

I couldn’t argue with the wisdom dispensed by ART’s absent crew. I remembered humans had needs and asked Tapan, “Did you eat?”

Wells could have easily written Murderbot as a typically alien-sounding robotic character, but she chooses to to make it a relatable protagonist instead. Murderbot is awkward around humans and simply wants to lose itself in soap operas all day. It mentally beats itself up over poor decisions. Its feelings toward itself and humans begin to modify throughout the story. It experiences these changes all the while having a sarcastic quip at hand. Murderbot is, if nothing else, a funny companion for an afternoon of light-hearted reading.

There's great potential for where books three and four, titled Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy, will be able to go in terms of creativity and world-building. This is impressive for two novellas each totaling around 150 pages. The reader will yearn for each tale to last even longer. The latter half of this series should be highly anticipated.

Michael Feeney is a book reviewer and pop culture junkie from the Philadelphia area. He is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction.