Artificial Condition – Martha Wells

After reading the first Murderbot book, I said I would keep a watching brief. That didn’t last long. I was looking for something short and easy to read that would be guaranteed to be entertaining. Overall, I wasn’t disappointed with this, the second in the series of novellas about a security specialist robot that has achieved some form of sentience and independence. But Murderbot has a bloody past, and his – OK, this is an assumption of male identity by me – ongoing, self imposed mission, is to find out what actually happened.

This time around, another party enters the fray. Without spoiling the plot, let’s just say Murderbot is not sure if the new party is friend or foe, and part of the edge of tension in this story is not knowing, as Murderbot attempts to travel to the mining facility where the old massacre occurred.

On the plus side, the story rattles along, with a good side plot involving some clueless humans, and another robot character complicating matters. The Murderbot character continues to develop, and there’s more to find out for sure.

However, once or twice in the action, I felt that Murderer’s capacity to overcome security systems was too much of a super power like ‘get out of jail free’ card, and suggested a certain laziness in the author’s approach. That is not to say I could instantly think of other ways around these systems, but it did mean that I was starting to think Murderbot was becoming invulnerable, and the sense of danger was substantially diminished.

After reading two books in the series, I am not convinced that the overall plotting is any good. The general level of writing is interesting enough, with some nice observations and touches of comedy. And it was a fast, easy read, that did exactly what I was looking for, and no more. But is the whole package worthy? Is this a series of cut down novels, or over-inflated short stories that should not be stitched together? The jury’s out. Maybe I am going back to my watching brief.

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All Systems Red – Martha Wells

This is a science fiction story about a robot/android who hacks his way into sentient independence, but doesn’t reveal this to his human owners. Murderbot – as he calls himself – is a SecUnit, deployed as a security guard with a team of scientists working on a planet to see what is there and what might be the best way of developing it. There is another team working on a different part of the planet with their own SecUnits.

This is a universe of mega corporations, where everything must be approved and supplied by corporate masters. And, since contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, quality and safety are not high on the list of priorities. Meantime, Murderbot secretly watches soap operas, hoping the humans will leave him alone so he can work out what exactly he is.

Our hero has a bit of a black mark in his employment record: he slaughtered a team of miners he was working for. His memory of that is incomplete, but it lingers at the edge of his consciousness as he interacts with his current team members. Do they know? What do they think, if they do?

Events take a turn for the worse, and Murderbot becomes the only thing standing between the scientists and their demise. The action that follows is a mix of shoot-em-up and clever maneuvering, with a fairly relentless cranking up of the tension.

This novella is good fun, and it led to me looking for more of the same. I have refrained from buying any others because, although all of novella length, they are priced the same as full length novels, and there is that creeping sensation of ripoff. I’ll maintain a watching brief.

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