Review: “Artificial Condition” by Martha Wells

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Release Date: May 8, 2018
Publisher: Tor.com Publishing
Series: Murderbot Diaries #2
Genre: Science Fiction, Space

Description

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…” (via Goodreads)

 

My Thoughts

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Muderbot is, for all intents and purposes, agender and asexual/aromantic. But while Murderbot doesn’t spend time sorting out gender expression, they exist in a universe where they must navigate social expectations, albeit ones vastly different from ours. In Martha Wells’ version of the future, humans have all sorts of gender identities rooted largely in the socio-cultural traditions of their planetary systems – “Two were female, and one was tercera, which was a gender signifier used in the group of non[corporate political entities known as the Divarti Cluster.”

SecUnits don’t have to deal with what is “normal,” mostly because humans treat them like tools rather than people. Now that Murderbot is free they suddenly have to deal with all those norms they spent most of All Systems Red avoiding. And not just deal with norms, but establish their own and learn to navigate the fluidity of human norms. It’s a Whole Lot to deal with, as we see in Murderbot’s interactions with Tapan in particular.

On one hand you have Murderbot sorting out who they are now that they aren’t a SecUnit, and on the other you have ART who enjoys being a transport ship and having a set, immutable purpose. Where Murderbot didn’t become “real” until they were free, ART finds realness in purpose. Here’s where the trans allegory gets really strong. There’s nothing “right” or “wrong” about how ART and Murderbot contradictorily identify themselves. Both started off being identified by outside forces, and now get to explore what that identity means and whether or not it fits. For Murderbot it does but not completely, but for ART it does but on their own terms rather than human ones. As Murderbot says, “I didn’t want to look more human than I already did. Even when I was still in armor, once my PreservationAux clients had seen my human face, they had wanted to treat me like a person…talk to me. About my feelings. I couldn’t take that.” There are things Murderbot wants and doesn’t want, and those both keep changing as they experience new situations and emotions. It’s not a straight line from AI to human, but muddled and complex and interweaving.

I’ll stop there for fear of spoilers, but it only gets better, deeper, and more introspective from there. But make sure to also check out this great article by Anya Johanna DeNiro over on Tor.com about reading All Systems Red as a trans woman.

Artificial Condition is a great sequel to All Systems Red and a fantastic book all around. Murderbot hooks up with a scientific team desperate to retrieve their stolen research, and of course the plan goes spectacularly awry. As the human trio confront a shady corporation, Murderbot delves into their own past to uncover the secrets of what really happened down in the mines. It’s a taut, action-y story brimming with thoughtfulness and adventure. To quote Ann Leckie, “I love Murderbot!”

It was a great idea to go if you wanted to be murdered. I had hoped for an easier job, courier duty, or something similar. But this was protecting humans who were determined to do something dangerous, which was exactly the kind of job I was designed for. The job that I had kept doing more or less, often as less as possible, even after I had hacked my governor module. I was used to having something useful to do, taking are of something, even if it was only a contractually obligated group of humans.

Thanks to Tor.com Publishing for sending me a review copy.

Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or get it from your public library.

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