Review: Artificial Condition (By Martha Wells)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 158 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Murderbot returns in the second book of his diary series – Artificial Condition.

Murderbot is a SecUnit, a human/robot construct leased out to research teams for security. Except, it’s hacked its governor module and has been a free agent for a while, accepting missions of its own volition (and allowing clients to believe that he’s still under the control of the company) as it figures out what it really wants. But now, it knows where it needs to go.

Murderbot has fragments of the memory of a dark past, one in which it went rogue and killed numerous people. That’s why, in its mind, it’s called Murderbot. Now, it wants to know the truth. What had really happened and where? And what role did Murderbot really play in the massacre? Its decision to find out the truth leaves it hitchhiking rides to a distant moon and soon, it finds itself on a research transport, forming an unlikely friendship. To get on the moon though, it needs an employment pass. Which is how it finds itself in the employ of a group of young people traveling to the moon and requiring security.

Now, Murderbot has two missions – find out the truth and keep its clients safe. And neither of them is turning out to be as simple as it’d thought. Will it find the truth it desperately wants to discover? Or will Murderbot’s past catch up with him and endanger the clients it has now vowed to protect?

The Bottom Line:

Just as good as its prequel, Artificial Condition is slightly slower-paced, no less interesting, and a lot funnier.

My take:

Artificial Condition picks up just a little after the first one ends, and it is (again) written from the perspective of Murderbot. Since it’s a novella and one that’s not too long, I’m going to try to keep this review short too.

Artificial Condition is at par with its prequel. It’s got a healthy dose of action and violence. A large part of the book, however, focuses on the development of Murderbot’s character as it gets used to its new circumstances and situation.

The surprising part of the book is the humor. I do not remember All Systems Red being funny as often as Artificial Condition. Murderbot’s wry sense of humor is much more pronounced in the second installment, especially so during its conversations with the Research Transport vessel on which it hitches a ride. For that to make sense, it is necessary to mention here that the vessel has its own intelligence, which is what connects with Muderbot. Also, certain events lead to Murderbot christening the vessel ART (A***ole Research Transport), and although dodgy at first, their relationship is one of the best parts of the story.

I have to point out though that Artifical Condition doesn’t hit the ground running. It’s relatively slow in the beginning, with almost half the book focussing on ART and Murderbot getting to know one another. That can be a sore point for those expecting a lot of action (especially given the fast pace of All Systems Red). But I thoroughly enjoyed their conversations and thought they were pretty pivotal to both entities figuring themselves out a little more.

All in all, Artifical Condition does not disappoint those who started the Murderbot Series with All Systems Red; in fact, it really builds on Murderbot’s story and personality. Highly recommended to:

  • those who read All Systems Red
  • those who want to try out a slightly different form of sci-fi

Artificial Condition can’t really be read as a standalone because a lot of it won’t make sense unless you’ve read its prequel. So All Systems Red is the best place to start this series (you can read my review for that one here), which is not one that you want to miss if you are even remotely interested in (or want to try out) sci-fi and space movies/books.

I’m soon going to be reading the next book in the series. Keep watching this space for the review of Rogue Protocol!

– Rishika

 

Review: All Systems Red (By Martha Wells)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 144 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

SecUnits are androids that accompany exploratory teams traveling to different planets in a distant future. Half human, half machine, their job is to keep the humans in their charge safe. Their rules are governed and issued by the company that approves and supplies all interspace missions. But safety isn’t a big concern when profits are at stake. Which is why the SecUnit accompanying Dr. Mensah and her team doesn’t bother too much when they face numerous technical glitches. Until they lose contact with another exploratory team that was on the other side of the desolate planet.

In the search for answers, Dr. Mensah and her team discover something unexpected. Their SecUnit has hacked into its own governor module. It isn’t, and never has been, answerable to anyone. And it calls itself ‘Murderbot’. Murderbot has a history, one that gives the humans enough reason to question his role in the dangers surrounding them. But they have more reason to trust it. And no choice but to do so when they realize that their lives depend on uncovering the truth about what happened to their neighboring mission team. But is trusting an advanced AI who is openly apprehensive of humans and generally indifferent the right choice? What is it that Murderbot really wants? And who will have to pay the price when the android is forced to choose between the freedom it’s come to like, and a lifetime of servitude that awaits it if its actions were to go public?

The Bottom Line:

A fast-paced, action-packed read that takes the unique perspective of the android, Murderbot, itself, and hits the reader with a host of emotions, expected and unexpected.

My take:

All Systems Red begins without much foreplay. It just leaps right into the story, and into the head of its main character – Murderbot. As such, it takes some time to get used to the slang and style, making the first couple of pages really interesting, but also requiring slow reading. But once you get the hang of it, there’s no pausing.

At 144 pages, it’s a short book, and every page is filled with information. And somehow, Wells manages to depict detailed characterization and character development in this short length. The characters can get a bit confusing (I honestly took some time to figure out who was male and female!), but that doesn’t really affect the reading experience. The characters themselves are so defined that that is the only thing you really care about.

Although interesting, the story is not unheard of or not previously-never-done. But what really stands out is the POV. The entire story is told from the perspective of Murderbot itself. The android has no misconceptions about what it likes or dislikes, and its own strengths and weaknesses, but it continues trying to figure out what all that stuff really means for it as an entity. This is a character that is trying to understand itself, and yet the effort of this activity takes a toll on it. In all of this, it still continues to care about the people in its protection, showcasing that it is inherently good.

For the most part, Murderbot is like a child. It sees the good and the bad, focuses on the good, and tries to do what it perceives to be right. But, it also has a strong survival instinct, driven by its past. These two halves of itself often put Murderbot in a conundrum. All Systems Red follows the development of Murderbot as it traverses the confusing waters of what it means to be itself, while fighting off an external threat that is way out of its comfort zone and job description.

The story follows the basic arc of an abandoned planet, a team of researchers caught in a threat they don’t understand, an unidentified enemy whose motivation is just as unknown, and a desperate attempt for survival. Yet, its fresh take makes the book very interesting. Plus, it keeps moving without reprieve, has something happening almost all the time, and keeps you turning the pages wondering, “What happens next?”

I thought the end of the book was actually pretty brilliant. Although many people have found it to be anti-characteristic, I found it to be quite the opposite. What I felt when reading the end was pretty simple – there could have been no better, natural conclusion. I think that Wells was very clear about the personalities of her characters, no matter however much conflict they are in, with each other and themselves. They are basically human. And the end made me feel like she definitely seems to have a strong understanding of what that means.

All in all, All Systems Red is a fast, interesting read that introduces a character who I definitely want to follow. There are three more books in the series – two have been released and the fourth (and apparently final) chapter releases this October. I’m definitely putting this series on my list, and will explore more of Wells’ work too.

All Systems Red is highly recommended to those who enjoy:

  • sci-fi of all types
  • action thrillers
  • movies like Alien and Life

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

– Rishika