cover image An Unnatural Life

An Unnatural Life

Erin K. Wagner., $12.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-250-75209-3

Wagner (The Green and Growing) retreads a popular sci-fi theme in this strikingly written but predictable story. Young lawyer Aiya Ritsehrer moves to the human colony of Europa for a new life. She finds work in criminal rehabilitation, helping prisoners on the Jovian moon find fresh starts. But she’s faced with a challenge when she’s assigned to work with 812-3, an artificial intelligence serving a life sentence for a murder he claims he didn’t commit. When 812-3 says he wants to appeal, Aiya takes the case despite the pervasive, often violent prejudice against artificial life that threatens her own life and relationships. Stories about the rights of artificial life, especially those convicted of crimes, have a long history in speculative fiction, and while Wagner raises fascinating questions about what it means to be human, they’re questions that have been asked before. Though Aiya is a rich and thoughtfully crafted character, 812-3 never comes across as a full presence in his own right, undermining the story’s themes. Fans of AI-centric sci-fi will make quick work of this, but wish for a fresher angle on a familiar idea. (Sept.)