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…
Artificial Condition picks up right where All Systems Red left off. Murderbot has a need to know what happened that fateful day on RaviHyral when it dubbed itself with that moniker. It hops from one transport to another until it encounters ART, a transport AI who sees through Murderbot's thin disguise. The two are initially suspicious of each other's motives. Their back and forth quips and probings takes up a good chunk of the beginning of the story.
Murderbot needs a pretense and a better disguise to get to the surface of RaviHyral as the news is filled with reports of a "SecUnit gone missing." It answers an ad for a group of researches in need of a security consultant/bodyguard as they're dealing with a local corporation that's stolen their data from a parallel project and bilked them out of their pay. We know that Murderbot is a softie for naïve humans who are in grave peril and can't help but take the job to make sure they don't get slaughtered.
Unlike All Systems Red, which hits the reader from the start, the pace starts slow and doesn't really get going until Murderbot reaches RaviHyral. Once there, the pace picks up as Murderbot has to simultaneously conduct its investigations into its murky past and keep its clients from walking into traps.
There's an interesting peek into the hierarchy of individual freedom based on levels of physical augmentation or processing power. SecUnits (murderbots) and ComfortUnits (sexbots) are at the bottom of that list, not really more than property. Even an emancipated bot like our protagonist doesn't truly enjoy freedom the same way that heavily augmented humans have. Even AIs, with vastly more processing power than shuttle pilots (a task handled by computers not humans), are constrained to an extent by their programming. For example, while ART is free to interact with Murderbot and others through the feed and is entirely capable of many things, being a transport ship for humans is still its raison d'être.
The interactions between Murderbot and other machines (a lump all term I'm using here for anything not mostly human) is notably different than the first story. Every computer or machine in All Systems Red were things for it to hack, which it did with ease. Other SecUnits had to be defeated in combat. In Artificial Condition, Murderbot has to actually converse with other machines. Murderbot needs to know why the sexbot is following it. What does it know? And ART is way too powerful for Murderbot to attempt any violent act. It has to negotiate from a position of relative weakness, albeit a bit sullenly. It was refreshing to see that Murderbot could have complex, non-violent encounters with other machines.
While this one didn't have the feels of the first, it was still a highly enjoyable story.