Artificial Condition by Martha Wells. ★★★★
If you haven’t read Martha Wells’ All Systems Red, you’re really missing out. This novella series follows Murderbot, a delightfully snarky and anxiety-ridden SecUnit who’s hacked its governor module and gained autonomy over its own actions. Artificial Condition is the second novella in the series, and I would suggest reading in order. Also, this review may contain spoilers for All Systems Red, just FYI.
Murderbot is out to investigate its past. It knows that it went on a rampage and killed many humans, even if its memories of the incident have been erased. But did it hack its governor module and chose to murder? Or was it ordered to begin the slaughter and then hack its governor module so that could never happen again?
Murderbot, who’s pretending to be an augmented human, hitches a ride on ART, a research transport heading in the right direction. Only, the “A” turns out to stand for “Advanced.” ART is vastly more powerful than Murderbot and highly intelligent. While it might make the most sense for ART to destroy what it recognizes as a rogue SecUnit, it instead offers to help Murderbot, and a new friendship is born. I loved this relationship so much! I think Murderbot actually really needed a friendship with another robot, more than it needed acceptance or friendship from humans, as was offered in All Systems Red. I really hope we see ART again.
I also love how Murderbot is so adamantly not human. It doesn’t fall into either of the two categories we so often see of fictional robots: a longing to be human or an utter hatred for humans. Murderbot sees both as what humans think robots should feel. Instead, humans give it anxiety (the depression and anxiety was an unfortunate side effect of the SecUnit’s high intelligence…) Of course, a large part of the tension of Artificial Condition comes from Murderbot having to pretend to be human, which it is not at all comfortable with. It’s hilariously awkward.
In a large part, this series is about identity, and you can see that strongly in Artificial Condition with Murderbot choosing to investigate its past. Who is Murderbot? What does it want? Once it has freedom, what is it going to do with that freedom? Besides consuming media, that is!
Artifical Condition is as excellent has I expected. I just love Murderbot so much! I want the next book immediately. Also, I’m glad to see Martha Wells getting attention for this series, as I think she’s a highly under-appreciated author. Martha Wells’ work is consistently excellent, and I’m glad new readers are discovering that with Murderbot.
I received an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review.