Artificial Condition Picks Up Right Where We Left
Artificial Condition continues my internal war with how I feel about The Murderbot Diaries. Despite it being more technobabble than almost anything else, the story remains intriguing and engaging off the back of the main conceit: what if a rogue AI designed to kill wanted to be left alone to watch television?
But this is a slightly odd article for me to write. There’s not a big difference between this and All Systems Red. I don’t have a ton of new ground to cover. Once again, Murderbot has to protect humans. Once again, there’s a mystery that we don’t have enough in-universe knowledge to solve before the reveal. And, once again, the best scenes in Artificial Condition are when Murderbot needs to interact with other people.
But the reason now to continue reading, and the reason all of these books will get a review eventually, is the excellent character arc. Such a good one it overwrites other problems in Artificial Condition. I was often bored when Murderbot was hacking or blasting through every single problem with an almost dry, meticulous approach. The prose consists mostly of descriptions of physical actions, and the internal monolog is mostly snark. The worst parts were sections consisting of mostly traveling in barely described locations. But then we have a scene in Artificial Condition where a woman Murderbot saved naps as close to Murderbot as possible, presumably because doing so makes her feel safe. It wasn’t okay for the human to do that without getting consent—but the scene gets the narrative point across, and other scenes accomplish similar goals. Like in All Systems Red, people can’t help but grow attached to this Murderbot. And this Murderbot can’t help but grow attached to people. The slow progression of increasing empathy is this narrative’s winning move.
And then there was the reason this book really worked for me: they gave Murderbot a teammate AI. Reading the two of them scheme and out-plan adversaries was genuinely fun. It was only towards the end of the story I realized how truly overpowered Murderbot is. There wouldn’t be tension if not for the endangered human friends.
Artificial Condition Relies On Hacking For Its Story
The only other thing of note in Artificial Condition compared to its prequel is a bigger exploration of human society happening in the background. We don’t get a lot of info—because Murderbot doesn’t pay attention to it much—but we slowly get worldbuilding. This is a dystopian, almost cyberpunk-style society with big corporations owning most things. This was definitely present in the last book, but in Artificial Condition, it cements the pattern that the villains are usually corrupt, greedy, or violent humans. There’s constant corporate crime, and the more you think about how many “expendable” AIs of different sorts this society relies on, the more bleak it is. “Comfortbots,” for instance, are sentient beings forced into sex work.
But it’s also revealed there are progressive parts of this society. Neopronouns, some form of polyamory/polygamy, body modifications, and more, are commonplace. We see locations where AIs have rights. And I love science fiction or fantasy that explores these sorts of topics. It’s all well and good to speculate that we might have, say, teleporters, but what about romance, culture, or identity in the future? How does that change? Within my limited framework, Artificial Condition, besides one line that unintentionally reads a little meanspirited, seems to have handled implementing those things into its narrative well enough. I hope we see more complex worldbuilding in future Murderbot books.
So, once again, this series wins. A Murderbot book gets a recommendation. Despite my now two-article-long complaints, this book’s bad fight scenes, weird pacing, and more, I have to know what happens next. I want to spend more time with Murderbot.
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