REVIEW: Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries #2) by Martha Wells
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…
but you may have noticed that for a terrifying murderbot I fuck up a lot.
Dear Ms. Wells,
I’m well and truly hooked on “The Murderbot Diaries” and so thankful that I didn’t have to wait a year for the next installment. I think I actually did a wiggle, happy dance in my chair when I got the notification that I’d been given an ARC. But then I started to try and tamp down my expectations because … could it match the first installment with Murderbot’s deadpan, sarcastic, leave-me-alone humor?
Murderbot – a name it gave itself after being involved years ago in a massacre of the humans it was supposed to be guarding on a remote mining moon – is a SecUnit. Mix a little cloned human material with a lot of augmented mechanization, install a governor module to allow it to be controlled then load it with lots of built in weapons and the strength to rip humans apart like tissue paper and you have a SecUnit. But Murderbot hacked its own governor module and thinks for itself even though it still (pretty much … most of the time) obeyed the commands of the various humans it had been hired to protect – from outsiders and themselves. Because humans are always doing stupid stuff that can get them killed.
No, it’s not bitter that humans rarely ask for much less listen to its security suggestions.
After its most recent Company contract went spectacularly wrong (Not its fault. Not this time. No, it saved its humans), it was bought by one of those humans and is no longer controlled by anyone – something most other humans would get all screamy about if they knew because there’s nothing that frightens humans like a rogue SecUnit. Murderbot has only scraps of memory about its dark past but it wants to know more. To do that, it has to journey back to the moon and search for answers.
Its first transit was with a transport bot in exchange for access to the hours of media – Murderbot prefers a serial called Sanctuary Moon – it had used to relieve its boredom while doing a half assed version of its SecUnit job. During that trip, Murderbot had done a lot of thinking and had a plan about what it wanted to do. The second journey is different though. This time it finds itself stuck with ART who is not just a mindless system running a transport. ART is a bored but sentient and highly intelligent system with the ability to control its environment in addition to initiative and freedom to act and is looking for some diversion on an otherwise stultifying journey. Uh-oh.
ART soon makes itself known to Murderbot in a way which leads to Murderbot’s name for it and the two dicker over what media shows to watch – ART takes a fancy to Worldhoppers despite Murderbot telling ART how unrealistic it is. ART says it won’t complain. (You know, just imagine everything it says in the most sarcastic tone possible.) ART also reveals a touching attachment to its real humans through its viewing reactions when a minor show character dies, then a major one, then the major one comes back and then being afraid (That’s obviously not how it phrased it, but yeah, it was afraid to watch it) when the ship on the show might be destroyed. Despite its immense processing capability, Murderbot pretty much has to hold ART’s metaphorical hand “because it had become emotionally compromised by a fictional media serial.”
In the at times testy and snarky conversations Murderbot and ART have, a lot gets revealed about the different functions the two have and their relative enjoyment of same. Murderbot discovers too late that ART knows a lot more than it’s letting on. (If I got through this intact, I needed to find a nicer, dumber transport for the next ride.)The bickering continues over the ways ART devises to assist Murderbot to disguise itself on the moon and evade those now searching for it. But will one of those suggestions help Murderbot to uncover the mystery or lead to making further (deadly) mistakes on the moon?
There’s action here though not as much as in “All Systems Red.” Murderbot does its thing again protecting those it takes a contract with but there’s a new slant. Murderbot is not just doing what it’s contracted to do and losing itself reruns of Sanctuary Moon. This time it’s thinking about who and what it is and making its own plans. It’s studying and improving its ways of passing as human as it seeks answers to its past. It also realizes that it can’t sink back into the ennui that it floated through life on before. If I was going to follow my plan, such as it was, I needed to care.
Murderbot still gets twitchy about humans getting into its space and finds them deeply, deeply weird and frustrating at times – they just will keep doing idiotic or homicidal things. Murderbot gets to practice its annoyed sighs and eye rolling. It also discovers information at the moon site that opens new questions. And in trying to act more like humans and pass for (at least an augmented) human, Murderbot has to face humans wanting to treat it like a person, talk to it – about its feelings or worse – hug it. It will have to shift from enjoying watching humans in serial entertainment and move to interacting with them. It will also have to ponder some things it realizes about itself and decide whether to go ahead with its plan. Maybe it will follow ART’s suggestion. Be careful. Find your crew. I’m already anticipating the next installment. B+