Be it Bender from Futurama or K-2SO from Rogue One, everyone loves a saucy robot. Which bodes well for sci-fi writer Martha Wells, whose new novella, Artificial Condition (hardcover, Kindle) continues the adventures of Murderbot she started with last year’s All Systems Red. Though in talking to her about this second installment of The Murderbot Diaries, she admits that neither of those aforementioned robots were an influence on her spicy ‘bot.
To start, what is Artificial Condition about, and how does it connect, narratively and chronologically, to the first book in The Murderbot Diaries, All Systems Red?
It begins not long after All Systems Red ends, and is about Murderbot’s attempt to find out what exactly happened during the incident where it killed a group of its clients. Its memory of the event has been partially erased, and it wants to find out if it killed the clients because it was able to hack its governor module, or if a flaw or bad update to the governor module caused it. It basically wants to know if it can trust itself around humans.
Where did you get the idea for Artificial Condition and how close is the finished novella from that original idea?
It’s fairly close to the original idea. I knew I wanted to write about Murderbot pretending to be an augmented human and taking a job as a security consultant, but it took a while for the plot to come together. I realized at one point that an episode told briefly in flashback actually needed to be the main plot line, and once I started to write it, the rest of the story came together.
In the previous interview we did about All Systems Red [which you can read here], we talked about the political and social aspects of the story, given how there’s elements of contracts being awarded to the lowest bidder, regardless of safety. Are there social or political aspects to Artificial Condition as well?
I think there are political aspects to every story, but the ones in Artificial Condition are much the same as in All Systems Red. Systems that let people treat other people as objects, access to safety and justice being dependent on how much you can pay for them, corporations cheating employees and contractors by withholding pay and stealing intellectual property, are all aspects of the story.
All Systems Redwas praised by three of my favorite sci-fi writers: Kameron Hurley [The Stars Are Legion], Ann Leckie [Ancillary Justice], and Malka Older [Null States]. But do you think fans of those novels would like Artificial Condition and, by extension, All Systems Red?
I don’t really know. I think there’s some similarities and some differences to the sci-fi works by those authors, but it’s really up to the individual reader’s taste. I think the most you could say is that people who like far future science fiction might like The Murderbot Diaries.
Speaking of other authors, are there any writers or individual stories that had a big influence on Artificial Condition but not on All Systems Red?
I don’t really think so. I started Artificial Condition not too long after I finished All Systems Red, so I think they have the same influences.
What about movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have any impact on what you wrote in Artificial Condition or how you wrote it?
Now, along with Artificial Condition you’ve got two more novellas in The Murderbot Diaries coming soon: Rogue Protocol on August 7th and Exit Strategy on October 2nd. First, what are those novellas about, and how are they connected to All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, and each other?
They’re part of the same series. Rogue Protocol takes place not long afterArtificial Condition, and Exit Strategy takes place directly afterRogue Protocol. Murderbot is the main character of each one, and the three novellas finish off the story arc that started in All Systems Red. Exit Strategy ends the story arc. If I do another Murderbot story, it will start off a new story arc.
And will that new arc come under the heading, The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Murderbot?
Probably not, though that would be funny.
But to be serious, are you planning to write more stories about Murderbot?
I don’t really have any firm plans right now. I’ve been working on Return To Dominaria for Magic: The Gathering since December, and I’m just now starting to think about what I’m going to do next.
With Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy coming so soon, many people may be inclined to buy them now but wait until all four are out to read them all in a row. Is there any reason they shouldn’t do this? Or should?
None of them end on cliffhangers, so there isn’t really any reason to wait to read them, but some people may just want to read them all at once. I do think it would be better to read them in order, though.
All four Murderbot stories are novellas. What is it about the novella as a literary form that makes you think it’s the right format for The Murderbot Diaries? Or is it more just the length?
It’s the length. I originally conceived All Systems Redas a short story with a depressing ending, but as I wrote it and became engaged with the character, I knew I needed longer to tell the story. The novella length was just right.
You also said in our previous interview that there had been no interest in a movie, TV show, or video game for The Murderbot Diaries. Is that still the case?
I can’t say anything at this time.
Interesting… You also said that if there was a Murderbot movie or TV show, you wanted Viola Davis [Suicide Squad] to play Dr. Mensah. So who would join the cast when they get to Artificial Condition?
There’s a character I would like to see [Spider-Man: Homecoming star] Zendaya play.
Finally, if someone’s enjoyed All Systems Red and Artificial Condition, what sci-fi novella would you suggest they read while waiting for Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy to come out?
I’m not sure what novellas are coming out this summer, but for sci-fi they should read all of their books by Ann Leckie [Provenance], Malka Older [State Tectonics], and Kameron Hurley [Apocalypse Nyx]. I’m also planning to read Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts, about a generation ship, and Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang whenever it’s out, and Fonda Lee’s next book Cross Fire.