I don’t normally review books in the middle of the series, but I need you all to know about Murderbot, so I’m here today to review Artificial Condition by Martha Wells, the second book in The Murderbot Chronicles.
All Systems Red, the first Murderbot book, was showing up in my recommendations for a long time before I actually read it. I took one look at the title and subtitle and assumed it was some sort of ridiculous robot apocalypse or AI-driven military fiction book. Not for me, I thought. Until I read a review somewhere and realized it was actually 100% for me.
Murderbot is a SecUnit, part biological, part machine, engineered to serve as security on contracts. Prior to the events of the series, something went horribly wrong and Murderbot killed the people they were contracted to protect. Now Murderbot has a hacked governor module, free-will, and an addiction to serial entertainments.
A couple notes: Murderbot is a genderless construct. I’m using “they” pronouns, although there’s no stated preference and they might even identify as an “it”, especially earlier in the series. Also, Murderbot is the name they gave themselves, and how they refer to themselves in their inner monolog.
Possessed of free will, Murderbot now also suffers from a lot of the same weaknesses we humans have, namely a certain amount of depression and anxiety, and major cases of the “I don’t wannas.” They still feel a certain drive to protect people, but also a lot of anxiety about potentially failing and killing people again. They also don’t really know how to interact with humans, and would rather be left alone to watch their favorite shows.
Artificial Condition picks up shortly after the events of the first book, and features Murderbot looking for answers about the massacre they were part of. They feel like they need to understand their past before they can move forward with the future.
Unfortunately, they can’t just go back to the moon where it all took place, as you can only go there with a work permit. So they end up posing as an augmented human security agent and taking a freelance job protecting a rag-tag group of young scientists who are trying to retrieve some stolen data.
Along the way, Murderbot has to learn how to navigate acting like a human, and how to handle the fact that they don’t have to directly follow orders anymore. How do they balance their own goals, what their employer has asked for, and what will actually keep the scientists safe.
Oh also there’s a powerful ship AI named ART who sort of takes Murderbot on as a project out of boredom, and provides a lot of unasked-for advice.
I love these books for Murderbot’s dry, self-depreciating narrative style. This is a series of novellas, so you don’t get a ton of complicated plot or world building. You’ve got your generic “humans have expanded to space and are mining it for resources” sci-fi setting, and it feels like the author has a good grasp of their universe but doesn’t want to spend a lot of time telling us about it. Similarly, the secondary characters feel like well-rounded people but we really only see them through Murderbot’s lens. The main focus here is the narrator’s journey, and it feels like each book will advance the meta-plot until Murderbot reaches some sort of conclusion at the end.
My main complaint is the price point. This is often my complaint with novellas. It’s hard for me to justify spending $9.99 on such a short ebook, just because the publisher has opted to put out a hardcover edition. I often end up waiting for novellas to go on sale, because it’s frustrating to spend the same amount for a 150ish page book as I would for a 400 page book, you know?
That said, these books are well worth reading. If you can’t justify the cover price (print or digital), consider requesting them at your local library, which still helps out the publisher and author and makes them available to others in your community after you’ve finished reading them.
Thank you to Tor.com and NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC for review purposes and giving me the chance to follow Murderbot’s continuing adventures.
Pros: Unique narrator, fun sci-fi adventures
Cons: Novella length can make the story feel rushed.
Conclusion: If you enjoy works that take a look at the ethics and philosophy of AI and engineered life forms, but don’t take themselves too seriously, this will be your cup of tea.
FTC disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This book was provided for free for promotional considerations, but neither this author nor this site received any other compensation from this publisher.