An Unnatural Life by Erin Wagner is a quick read about a robot AI having been convicted of murdering a human on a remote planet colony. This theme has obviously been done many times before but the concept never seems to get stale. As our own AI begins to mature and get more complex, it’s only a matter of time in the future before our humanity will need to embrace a similar scenario. Therefore, the concept isn’t that far fetched. As you can expect, An Unnatural Life explores the question of what role humans play in creating just such a scenario as to let a robot being convicted of murder.
“Humans don’t ask for most things. They still expect them.” – Robot ID 812-3
We follow Aiya, who decided to leave Earth for the remote planet/moon of Europa, as she first gets the job of rehabilitating the murderbot. However, as she converses with the robot, things take a different turn and she now finds herself acting as lawyer to the robot in hopes of getting an appeal on its murder conviction. Again, the theme here, which I wont’ spoil further, is definitely interesting and got me thinking a lot. However, I think the author failed in its execution. The robot’s presence itself doesn’t feel very “robot-ish”. With the story revolving around a robot convicted of murder, this undermines the very theme itself. It also didn’t help that the robot didn’t get much time in the book to shine on its own. Aiya, thankfully, can be considered a more thought provoking character for her young age. She has her own baggage and reasons for leaving Earth but this was not glossed over in details.
“Do you want them to see you as a human? Or as a monster?” – Aiya
It was hopeful of me to expect the story to turn into a courtroom drama. Alas, this was not to be. I think if this did happen though, the story would have been much, much more exciting in my opinion. As it is, the author chose to skip over many of the details. This felt a bit cheap even for a short length book as this. Again, I keep seeing themes and ideas brought up in this book that would have been awesome to explore in more details if the author either had put more thought into it or made the book longer in length. One such theme includes giving robots similar constitutional rights as humans on Earth as well as the idea that humans “can’t have it both ways” where robots are concerned. Pick up An Unnatural Life if you are looking for a quick read into a science fiction fan favorite topic but expect to leave disappointed.