Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells

[Tor Novella]
★★★★★ Great characters, great action, interesting setting

(SF Adventure; Murderbot Diaries) Murderbot heads to the RaviHyral Mining Facility to learn the truth about why it went rogue and killed its own clients many years ago. (32,446 words; Time: 1h:48m)

You should read “All Systems Red” before reading this novella. See related articles on

"," by (edited by Lee Harris), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: Murderbot comes to RaviHyral seeking absolution. It finds it, in a way, learning that it wasn’t the cause of the massacre nor did it really do all the damage the company said it did; it was simply the sole surviving SecUnit, so they blamed it for everything. And it partially atones by freeing the sexbot—also a sole survivor, from a group that selflessly put themselves in harms way trying to stop the massacre and save lives.

The strongest emotional moment in the story is when Murderbot thinks through its reasons for wanting to free the sexbot. That it wants to honor the sacrifice of a group even more lowly than SecUnits. A group who made the ultimate sacrifice and did the right thing in a universe where not many do the right thing even when there’s little or no cost to it. Murderbot has a sense of honor that most humans only wish we had.

Murderbot’s dialogues with ART help develop its character further. Murderbot doesn’t like ART because ART forces it to confront uncomfortable truths it would rather not think about. It’s a real pleasure watching Murderbot gradually gain a grudging respect for ART and then seeing them work together.

It’s also nice to see that, powerful as they are, Murderbot and ART both have limits. Murderbot can’t hack every system in existence, and the ones it can hack require time and effort. ART is far more powerful than Murderbot, but it’s also much less human, and often comes across as childlike. It’s also nice to see that ART can’t escape its own programming. Murderbot, being part organic, can.

The hapless young people trying to get their data back make for a nice foil. They’re 100% human, almost helpless, but respectful and polite: very worth clients for Murderbot to be protecting, and we cheer whenever it does something for them.

Con: Tlacey is a cardboard villain, and in the story’s climax, she’s dispatched too easily.

The reason I recommend against reading this novella without reading "All Systems Red" first is that the first novella develops Murderbot's character to the point where we care about it a lot and really want to see it succeed. This story doesn't have a lot of dependence on the events that went before, but it hugely depends on us already having warm feelings for the protagonist.

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Martha Wells Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I agree with the rating. Every bit is good as the first novella.

    ART and Murderbot are good for each other. I think these 2 learn what friendship is, and when they are watching media together they have some very funny moments.

    I do think readers would be better off reading the first novella, and then starting on this one for pretty much the same reasons as given by RSR.

    1. Martha Wells is really on a roll, isn't she? People were even handing out MurderBot ribbons at WorldCon.