“Artificial Condition – Murderbot Diaries #2” by Martha Wells

artificial-condition-1This continues straight on from Murderbot’s decision about his future at the end of “All Systems Red” and carries with it all the strength of Murderbot’s not-smart-enough-to-be-AI and not-socially-and-emotionally-mature-enough-to-be-human personality.

Martha Wells’ writing remains tight and finely nuanced as she shows us the world through Murderbot’s eyes and in the process, make me rethink what I’m seeing and the nature of the person whose eyes I’m seeing it through.

The story gave me two sets of insights into Murderbot, one through watching Murderbot and the AI of a research ship build a relationship that was at once completely credible and totally alien, the other through seeing Murderbot pass as an augmented human amongst a set of emotional, inclusive and completely vulnerable engineers.

In the meantime, a larget picture of power and threat started to emerge and Murderbot continued to grow into someone who is no longer content passively to watch entertainment shows but feels a need to get involved.

Murderbot, the Ship AI and the introduced-for-the-first-time Comfortbots all gave a perspective not just on what it means to be sentient but how poorly we humans treat other sentient beings, including other humans.

I liked the fact that the title acted as both a description of Murderbot’s situation and a reference to the idea that fear is external. It made me think that if fear, one of the most basic emotions, is artificial, then what about us is real? Which makes Murderbot seem more real even though he’s artificial.

The only disappointing thing about “Artificial Condition” was that there was so little of it.

OK, so it’s a few pages longer than “All Systems Red”, the first of the Murderbot Diaries but that set out an entirely new world and ended at a point where I felt a conclusion had been reached. “Artificial Condition” reads more like an episode in a series.

While I’m sure I’ll buy and read the next two episodes when they are released later this year, I feel as if the publishers are ripping me off. It would have been more honest to test the waters with “All Systems Red” novella and then follow up with a full-length novel.

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