Activation Degradation is a novel by Marina J Lostetter about an android. On Jupiter, defending Earth from aliens. It also has some profound things to say about humanity. So, it’s nothing like the video game Detroit, which I reviewed last week.
AMS Unit Four is activated in the middle of an alien attack on a mining platform. The mining power harvests helium-3 from an orbit around Jupiter and uses it to send power to Earth. The androids are part-biological and part-mechanical. After a short life of only days, often due to radiation exposure, they die. The other units then return their bodies to reclamation vats, where they are reconstituted with most of their memories wiped.
Unit Four’s handler instructs it to get onto a ship and attack the aliens that are firing on the station. Earth depends on it. Unit Four manages to drive off the alien ship, but then things go awry. Unit Four’s ship collides with an alien ship and gets lodged in the hull.
As the aliens capture Unit Four, It quickly becomes clear that nothing is as it seems.
I was going to write more about the characters in the book, but I suddenly realized that mentioning the other characters would be a spoiler. So, I’ll have to take a different tack.
Let’s talk about Unit Four. At first I thought ‘well, this book looks like a rip-off of the Murderbot Diaries.’ The Murderbot books are clearly an inspiration — heck, the tagline refers to them — but this is an original work. I would not have chosen to put it in the tagline, the book is good enough not to need to ride the coat tails of the Murderbot Diaries. Then again, it made the book pop up in my Amazon suggestions list, so maybe it worked as intended.
But let’s be clear: AMS Unit Four in Activation Degradation is not Murderbot. The premise is similar, about an android forced to navigate a world of social interactions it doesn’t understand. However, Marina Lostetter takes things in a very different direction than Martha Wells. The universe it plays in is very different, which has profound consequences. Activation Degradation also reverses the motivations. Murderbot is trying to keep a group of humans alive. Unit Four is trying to fight a group of aliens.
I went through this book in short order. It’s a page turner, and that’s always good. There’s a lot of world-building that could have been put in the story, but it wasn’t. The story tells you what you need to know and focuses the rest on the character arc. And that’s a good thing.
I like this book, more than I thought I would in advance. I enjoyed it a lot more than Detroit: Become Human, which I reviewed last week, that’s for sure. And unlike Detroit, this focuses on why the characters do what they do, good or bad, and in the process manages to say more about AI than Detroit ever could.
So, if you like succinct but powerful scifi, go read this story.