43 pages 1 hour read

Martha Wells

Artificial Condition

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


Artificial Condition is the second of the novels and novellas that comprise The Murderbot Diaries. American author Martha Wells began The Murderbot Diaries series in 2017. Published in May 2018, Artificial Condition won the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Novella, following its predecessor All Systems Red, which won the same award in 2018 along with the Nebula Award for Best Novella and the American Library Association’s Alex Award.

While employing many staples of science fiction—space travel, futuristic technology, and artificial intelligence (AI)—Wells’s series has been praised for portraying marginalized and overlooked characters in the genre, especially in its presentation of the half-human and half-robot protagonist that calls itself Murderbot. Artificial Condition provides a unique take on such themes as The Line Between Human and Machine, Representation Versus Reality, and The Quest for Purpose.

This guide refers to the 2018 Kindle e-book edition of Artificial Condition.

Plot Summary

Artificial Condition picks up shortly after the events of All Systems Red. Murderbot, the narrator and protagonist, is a partially organic security robot that disabled its governing software and is now on its own, moving among humans while constantly worrying that they will notice it isn’t one of them. Not knowing what to do with its freedom, Murderbot plans to visit a mining facility called RaviHyral to learn more about an incident in which it supposedly malfunctioned and killed dozens of people. Its memory was wiped after the incident, so it wants to discover what happened and whether it was at fault.

To get to RaviHyral, Murderbot boards a space transport vessel. Though there are no humans onboard, the introverted Murderbot is surprised and frustrated to discover that the computer controlling the ship has a powerful artificial intelligence. Murderbot nicknames the ship and the computer that controls it ART (Asshole Research Transport). ART is curious and outgoing and eventually helps Murderbot improve its human disguise by surgically changing aspects of Murderbot’s appearance.

When they arrive near RaviHyral, ART remains in contact with Murderbot, and the two work together to help Murderbot pretend to be human. To gain access to the mining facility, Murderbot gets a job as a security consultant for a group of human researchers—Rami, Maro, and Tapan—who plan to travel to RaviHyral to reclaim data that their former employer stole from them. On the way to RaviHyral, that employer, Tlacey, head of Tlacey Excavations, tries to kill the research team by disabling the computer controlling their transport. Murderbot and ART act just in time to save the team from the attempted murder.

After they land on RaviHyral, Murderbot struggles to convince the researchers that Tlacey will never give them back their data. Only after Tlacey again tries to have them murdered—this time sending assassins—do Rami, Maro, and Tapan appreciate that their lives are at risk. They gain affection for Murderbot, who saves them from the assassins. Despite its separate agenda on RaviHyral, Murderbot cannot resist the urge to help the research team given that its original purpose was to defend clients from harm.

Thinking that it has put Rami, Maro, and Tapan on a ship to safety, Murderbot returns to learning about its past. Murderbot discovers Ganaka Pit, the scene of its murderous malfunction, and learns that it was not at fault for the killing spree—it was caused by corporate sabotage gone awry. Yet, it still feels guilty. Murderbot is struck by the selfless behavior of four ComfortUnits (sexbots) during the incident. Without human orders, the ComfortUnits sacrificed their lives trying to save others.

Murderbot learns that things went amiss with the research team. Rami and Maro are safe, but Tapan stayed behind on RaviHyral in the hope of getting the data back from Tlacey. Murderbot is exasperated at Tapan’s dangerous decision but remains committed to helping her. That night, a ComfortUnit belonging to Tlacey contacts Murderbot asking Murderbot to free it from Tlacey’s control. Murderbot suspects that it wants to kill Tlacey, and possibly other humans, since it has suffered human abuse for years.

The next day, Murderbot retrieves the research team’s stolen data. While that is happening, Tlacey captures Tapan and brings her aboard Tlacey’s private vessel. When Murderbot shows up to save Tapan, Tlacey tries to take control of Murderbot by putting a combat override module into Murderbot’s data port. That plan fails as ART’s surgery made Murderbot invulnerable to that sort of control. When fighting breaks out, Murderbot unleashes its combat abilities, killing Tlacey and many of her guards and saving Tapan, who is wounded in the chaos.

Murderbot rushes Tapan to ART, and ART performs emergency surgery and saves her life. ART also covers up Murderbot and the research team’s involvement in the violence. In honor of the four ComfortUnits that gave their lives in Ganaka Pit, Murderbot frees Tlacey’s ComfortUnit. As the ComfortUnit departs, Murderbot cautions it against harming humans or Murderbot will come after it.

Rami, Tapan, and Maro thank Murderbot for its help. Maro wants to hug Murderbot but refrains out of respect for its shy nature. Murderbot keeps the communication device it used to speak with ART in case they meet again. Artificial Condition closes with Murderbot preparing for a long trip through space to an unknown destination.