Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Artificial Condition

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, #2)

Artificial Condition is the second novella in the Murderbot Diaries and picks up right where the first one left off. Murderbot is a rogue SecUnit- a security robot who has hacked its own software and is now self aware and independent. It keeps this a secret, however, and mostly wants to be left alone to consume entertainment media at its leisure. However there is an event in its past that is causing it distress, an incident on a mining facility that resulted in many human deaths. Murderbot frankly wants to know if it caused those deaths, or it was used by someone else to do the killing. Its quest for the truth is the basis of the story here.

Martha Wells packs a lot of story into this novella! Following on from the events of the first story, Murderbot takes a transport ship to the distant mining colony where the incident happened. The transport is not your average, run-of-the-mill transport though- it is run by an artificial intelligence that is very curious about what Murderbot is doing, and which our protagonist soon dubs ART (asshole research transport). ART cares very much for its crew, and takes its responsibility to them very seriously, even though it's quite self-aware and independent in its own way, and it's friendship (?) is invaluable to Murderbot over the course of the story. And as one would expect, the snarkiness between the two of them is delightful as well.

ART turns out to have a wide complement of abilities which are of use to our hero, and their burgeoning relationship was one of my favorite parts of the story. At the same time, I'm getting the impression that Murderbot is not nearly alone in its state of being- there are indications throughout the story that perhaps rogue AI's (or at least some with a measure of independence) are not as rare as Murderbot thinks they are. This is fascinating, as this is a universe where robots are ubiquitous- I mean they run ships like ART does, they provide security like Murderbot does, sexbots are common. The idea that a substantial percentage of these units are secretly independent or able to operate without guidance from humans opens up a ton of story possibilities- and would be terrifying, I would think, to the human inhabitants of this universe.

The other thing I really liked was that, unlike many stories of this nature, Murderbot is not trying to be human. Murderbot is fine the way it is, thank you very much, and yes just wants to be left alone to consume Netflix media as it pleases, with a minimum of fuss. At the same time, Murderbot has an attachment to people, and definite loyalties, as evidenced when it takes a contract to protect a small group of humans at the mining colony. The humans are being stiff-armed by their former employer, and Murderbot quite correctly deduces that as things stand they're not going to survive long. So again, just as in the first novella, Murderbot wants to be left alone, and yet finds itself enmeshed in human affairs- and finds itself caring about its human employers more than it cares to admit.

As far as I'm concerned, Murderbot is fully human, or close enough that it makes no difference. I was very moved not only with Murderbot's desire to learn the truth (and the actual mission to do so at the mining colony was gripping and a bit ominous), but also by its unwillingness to let its human clients suffer the consequences of their poor decisions! As much as I missed the humans who took a chance on Murderbot in the first story, Wells made me care about this group too. And can I just say the humor is, once more, on point? Not to be spoilery, but at one point ART comes up with a plan that it gleans from a show it watched (it, like Murderbot, tends to like media to a high degree for entertainment). The only complaint I have is that the ending felt very rushed- and by that I mean the aftermath, not the actual resolution of the plotlines. It just felt kind of abrupt the way things left off- but at the same time with two more novellas coming, I can't wait to see where this goes next.

I can honestly say that along with the world of Becky Chambers' books (The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet and its sequels) this is probably my favorite science fiction setting at the moment. I could read books set in this universe all day. It feels alive, and sprawling, and very real. And the fact that Wells accomplishes this in a novella format is impressive. I wasn't sure what to expect after the first story, but this one, like its predecessor, is outstanding.

Oh, and this pretty much sums up Murderbot

16 comments:

  1. I need to check this series out. Murderbots. I mean what could be more interesting and intense.
    Love the Bourne movies. I need to rewatch these.

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    1. I love the Bourne movies too, and Murderbot seriously reminds me of him just for the way he fixes his humans' mistakes!

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  2. Wow. What a great review. I have to tell my hubby about this one. I feel like he'll devour it! Actually, I may enjoy it as well. Have you seen Altered Carbon? There's an AI in the show and I just love him. He's one of my favorite characters. Off to go get this for the hubster!

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    1. Yay, and thanks! The more people reading the better, this series is so good! And I did see Altered Carbon- I rather liked the AI too!

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  3. I’m glad you’re enjoying these. If they’re really like the Bourne movies I’m intrigued.

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    1. Well only kinda, but I just think Murderbot is so efficiently good at saving his humans' bacon that it reminded me!

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  4. I'm not a really big Sci-fi reader but somtimes I find some really good so I'm curious when I hear what you say of this one

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  5. I have always wanted to try Wells and she does have this fantasy book, but murderbots...sure why not

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  6. Wow...this actually sounds better than the first. I can't wait to read it!

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

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  7. I must read this. It sounds amazing. I really need to give Wells a try.

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  8. think I have book 1, will have to check. Have been in the mood for sci fi lately and heard this is so good

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  9. Murderbot really is a unique AI. I don't think of it as fully human, nor do I see it as fully robot. I think the character straddles a space that's entirely all its own, and that's what makes this series so special and why I love it so much :D

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

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  10. I really want to read these!

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  11. Huh, sounds interesting...I also like the idea that the author isn't trying too hard to personify the bot.

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  12. Murderbot Diaries?! Sounds awesome! Love great world building! Going on my TBR list. Thanks!♥️

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  13. I've heard so many good things about this novella and the previous one and reading the review really makes me want to check them out. They sound so interesting and so original.

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