Rich Horton Reviews Artificial Condition by Martha Wells and Twelve Tomorrows edited by Wade Roush

Artificial Condition, Martha Wells ( Publishing) May 2018.

Twelve Tomorrows, Wade Roush, ed. (The MIT Press) July 2018.

Artificial Condition is the second Murderbot novella from Martha Wells. (The first, All Systems Red, won the most recent Nebula and Locus Awards for Best Novella.) In this story, Murderbot, having gained somewhat ambiguous autonomy, plans to return to the scene of the killing spree it apparently engaged in on a previous contract. In the process, it meets another AI, an irritatingly nosy Construct that it calls ART, operating the transport they have taken to get to the moon RaviHyral. ART helps our hero learn to impersonate an augmented human a bit better, and Murderbot gets a job, doing security for a group of researchers trying to negotiate with a mining com­pany for their stolen research data. Predictably, evil corporations being evil corporations, that doesn’t go well, and Murderbot finds itself once again entangled against its will in human problems – and its investi­gation of its own past is problematic as well. This is another very fun story.

The MIT Press’ near-annual collection of near-future SF, Twelve Tomorrows, is out for 2018. The book is intriguing as ever – a strong collection of stories extrapolating near term scientific advances. One thing they have done is include a graphic element. In previous years this has been an artist’s gallery, but this year’s is the first graphic story, and I liked it a great deal. “Resolution” by Clifford V. Johnson is the story of a woman who had a major role in design­ing the AI that has taken over control of the world, leading to what looks like a utopia. But this woman is resisting, and this is the story of her decision to opt out of utopia and start fighting its benevolent rulers. The story turns on a pretty neat and very SFnal rev­elation as to the true nature of the “AI” – and where it hails from.

The other best story from the book is also from a slightly unexpected source. “Vespers” by J.M. Ledgard, is an excerpt from his upcoming novel, but it works perfectly as an independent piece. The novel is set in Roman Africa, but the story is set in deep space, more than 26,000 years in the future, and it’s told by the machine intelligence occupying a starship headed to the Trappist solar system. The story consists of this intelligence, Quintinus, meditating on its intelligence, human intelligence, history, and its future. It is a stunningly beautiful story, intelligent and profoundly moving. I loved it.

Recommended Stories

“Resolution”, Clifford V. Johnson (Twelve Tomorrows)
“Vespers”, J. M. Ledgard (Twelve Tomorrows)

Rich Horton works for a major aerospace company in St. Louis MO. He has published over a dozen anthologies, including the yearly series The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy from Prime Books, and he is the Reprint Editor for Lightspeed Magazine. He contributes articles and reviews on SF and SF history to numerous publications.

This review and more like it in the August 2018 issue of Locus.

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