Review: Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

  • On: 8th Jul 2023
  • Category: Reviews

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells, first published in 2018

The second entry in The Murderbot Diaries series, Artificial Condition, is another short and simple story centred on the socially awkward, soap-opera-loving cyborg, Murderbot. The story picks up where All Systems Red left off, with Murderbot seeking transport off-world after Dr Mensah bought its contract, giving the cyborg the self-determination to decide whether to stay or leave. Murderbot bribes its way onto a research transport by promising the ship’s A.I. access to a plethora of media.

Some interesting worldbuilding is woven into this part of the story, as A.I. seem far more widely integrated into this universe than I understood them to be in All Systems Red. In addition to the cyborgs that fulfil various societal roles, A.I. are combined with a range of other machinery, providing autonomous control over their functions, like the A.I. that manages all operations on the research transport it’s embedded in.

With passage secured, the journey gets underway, and Murderbot and the A.I. watch soap operas together, slowly understanding one another along the way. Murderbot eventually gives the A.I. an acronym name – ART (the meaning of which is best discovered within the story itself!). The A.I. conversations were entertaining and provided insight into both characters, their perspectives on the world, and the humans they serve and served.

Murderbot’s destination is a mining facility where the ‘incident’ occurred – the accident from which Murderbot derived its name and gained freedom from its governor module – intending to understand what happened on that fateful day, as Murderbot doesn’t remember due to a memory wipe that occurred after the ‘incident’. ART grows invested in the cyborg’s mission and helps Murderbot blend in among humans, using its onboard medical facilities to shorten the cyborg’s limbs and increase the hair growth on its skin.

Arriving at the mining facility, the Murderbot takes a security guard contract, posing as an augmented human to accompany a group of humans into the restricted area of the facility where the ‘incident’ occurred. As its new human companions inevitably get into trouble, Murderbot can’t help but save their lives, utilising its SecUnit abilities to protect them. The cyborg’s inner dialogue as its interacts with the humans and tries to maintain the pretence that it is an augmented human, is simultaneously awkward and entertaining to experience, as it does what it thinks a human would do. Murderbot also has a few interactions with a ComfortUnit (a.k.a a sexbot) that knows who and what, Murderbot is. The ComfortUnit treats Murderbot, and more specifically, Murderbot’s freedom and independence, with reverence – is the fascination and allure of free will the start of a robot uprising, perhaps?

Much like the first book, the pros of the story include the worldbuilding, the characters and the humour. It was great to delve deeper into Murderbot’s universe and the interactions with other types of cyborgs and A.I. If anything, it left me wanting more like its predecessor! I listened to the audiobook version of Artificial Condition, which featured the same narrator, who maintained a fairly monotone delivery throughout the story like last time. I noted in my previous review I found that appropriate for Murderbot, but it was its application to everything else that I found problematic. Because proportionally, so much more of this story dealt only with Murderbot and its interactions with other bots & A.I., this issue was less prevalent and less annoying than it was in book one.

Overall, Artificial Condition is worth reading, and I enjoyed it more than All Systems Red. I look forward to Murderbot’s continued adventures in book three – Rogue Protocol!

Background image by Casey Horner on Unsplash