Review: AN UNNATURAL LIFE by Erin K. Wagner

Publisher: Tor.com
Page Count: 192
Release Date: September 15th, 2020
Series: Standalone
Rating: 3/5 Stars – Liked It

Note: I was provided a free ARC by the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.

An Unnatural LifeWhen Aiya agreed to assist in Europa’s prisoner rehabilitation program, she didn’t expect a robotnik to be her first client – or that he would ask her to appeal his murder conviction. After some reluctance, Aiya agrees, but she faces an uphill battle. Europa is resistant to acknowledging the rights of robotniks, and Aiya will have to come up with a compelling reason why the case was mishandled to begin with.

Let’s start this review by setting the expectations for this book. Marketing has been pushing Murderbot meets TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, but if you come to this story expecting action and a sarcastic tone, you will be sorely disappointed. This is much closer to a sci-fi TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, one that is much more contemplative than anything else.

The author manages to do a great job of world building, establishing the feeling of this colony in a short amount of pages. I particularly liked her descriptions of the robotnik (essentially an android) 812-3. She managed to capture how unsettling the robotnik could be, even when not doing anything inherently threatening. I could have used a little less of the cliched “Most people hate robotniks and mistreat them when given the chance,” but otherwise it was an interesting world setup.

On the downside, though, this was a book that was much more interested in introducing questions than interrogating those questions. To be fair, AN UNNATURAL LIFE raises some interesting points. One of Aiya’s legal tactics, for instance, is to propose that 812-3 was not tried by a jury of his peers. But is declaring that humans are not the peers of robotniks a good thing in the long run? And what does that mean in the grand scheme of things? The author will leave you to debate that, rather than offer any true opinions on this and other questions raised in the story. She’s here to poke, not render judgement. It’s an approach that left me feel like the story was half-finished.

Your enjoyment of AN UNNATURAL LIFE will depend on how much you want the author to do the heavy lifting for you when it comes to more philosophical questions. The tale is otherwise well-written, so if you like your sci-fi to give you questions to ponder, this may be exactly your cup of tea! I prefer my reads to be a little more meaty and have a definitive thesis, so it didn’t win me over as much as I was hoping. Either way, this is a quick read easily consumed in an afternoon, and worth a look at for sci-fi fans.

10 thoughts on “Review: AN UNNATURAL LIFE by Erin K. Wagner

Add yours

  1. I sometimes enjoy some cerebral philosophising, so long as it’s not too long and pretentious 😆 So think the short word count might keep this interesting for me. Looking forward to reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure why I never requested this, but now I’m sort of glad because I was tempted by the comparison, and it sounds like that wasn’t quite right. At least it was short and kept you reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for telling us what this book actually is! it sounds like a contemplative, philosophical read, something I’d like if I new what I was getting myself into. But you’re right, people who go into this thinking it will have the snark of Murderbot will be disappointed.

    Liked by 1 person

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