Murderbot meets To Kill a Mockingbird in Erin K. Wagner’s An Unnatural Life, an interplanetary tale of identity and responsibility.
The cybernetic organism known as 812-3 is in prison, convicted of murdering a human worker but he claims that he did not do it. With the evidence stacked against him, his lawyer, Aiya Ritsehrer, must determine grounds for an appeal and uncover the true facts of the case.
But with artificial life-forms having only recently been awarded legal rights on Earth, the military complex on Europa is resistant to the implementation of these same rights on the Jovian moon.
Aiya must battle against her own prejudices and that of her new paymasters, to secure a fair trial for her charge, while navigating her own interpersonal drama, before it’s too late.
An Unnatural Life will be released on September 15, 2020. Preorder Now!
“That doesn’t make any sense.We make them. We manufacture them. We should control them. We can’t have it both ways. Give them human rights and still treat them like slaves.”
“So better we strip the rights?”
The tagline of “Murderbot meets To Kill a Mockingbird” is actually a very good description of An Unnatural Life. It isn’t often comparisons like this work so well, but this one did. I also enjoyed reading this a lot.
An Unnatural Life follows Aiya Ritsehrer as she tries to appeal the case of prisoner 812-3, a ‘cybernetic organism’ that was convicted of murder. Europa’s legal structure is basic at best, without even an appeals system in place, and they are highly biased against AI. Aiya has an uphill battle on her hands, starting with her own prejudices.
I did really enjoy reading this, even if I had to crowdsource the pronunciation of 812-3. Though I do think that the fact that this was a novella took something away from the story. Which is not an uncommon feeling for me, to be fair. I always feel a little bit unsatisfied reading novellas. I did have a larger issue related to the way the story played out, which is related to spoilers so I won’t get too far into it. But thinking about it, though, I’m not certain that issue is related to the format at all, though it could be.
I really enjoyed the characters and their stories in An Unnatural Life. It was just that this was incredibly predictable, especially if you know To Kill a Mockingbird. I had dreams and aspirations for the ending to this novella that I didn’t actually get, but I think what I did get was equally as good.
Also there were these little bits of a story told between chapters that felt completely out of place. They didn’t connect to the story. They didn’t do anything. They were a mystery that didn’t really get solved. It was just odd and didn’t add anything to the story.
In the end, An Unnatural Life succeeded in telling the story that the author wanted to tell. And it was a good one. It was also, as of writing this in early June 2020, incredibly topical with certain real life events. 812-3 and his fellow robotniks being seen as less than human is something that packs a big punch.
ARC received from Tor.com on Netgalley. This did not affect my review.