All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Vertigo

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#1
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All Systems Red is the first novel in Wells’ Murderbot Diaries, only, at one hundred pages, it isn’t really a novel it’s barely a novella (more on that issue later). The ‘murderbot’ in question is a security unit that is part organic clone, part inorganic android fitted with a ‘governor’ to stop it running amok and murdering everyone in sight. A governor that this particular ‘construct’ has hacked. Except this particular construct is actually a very moral one that is determined to protect its humans – a planetary survey group of scientists – when faced with attack by another similar group.

This is the first Martha Wells book I have read and, though I gather she may be a fairly well respected fantasy author, I’m afraid that, for me, she is only an average SF author. Her writing is moderately smooth and easy to read but the depth of her characters was pretty poor; the only character we really get to know is the construct itself, with the rest of the team feeling pretty indistinguishable, which I suppose should be no great surprise in such a short book. The plot is a fairly straightforward thriller style plot that is unexceptional and has little in the way of unexpected twists. It kept me entertained for a hundred pages put would have struggled had it been any longer.

Sadly though, the biggest problem for me was the construct itself. The story is told in first person from the construct’s point of view which is fine and it did have a certain naïve endearing quality but it was also, to all intents and purposes, an autistic character; it gets embarrassed when ‘humans’ look at it directly or touch it and prefers to remain in is armour with the face plate obscured. At times when the humans show it too much attention or empathy it simply retreats into a corner of the room facing the wall. Presenting an autistic character as the central character in a book is just fine and has been done exceptionally well in some books I have read but this is supposed to be a programmed security unit designed to protect its client humans. It does this admirably well but the combination of this role and its profound autism in the presence on the humans kept jarring with me as utterly implausible for something that has been designed and programmed for a fundamentally aggressive role.

But despite that it was an enjoyable read. However I will not be reading more from this series or indeed from Martha Wells for the simple reason I resent being openly ripped off. Let me explain. As mentioned earlier this book was a hundred pages long on my ereader (which generally matches paperback page counts pretty accurately), though Amazon does claim 150 pages for the paperback edition (they must use big line spacing and even bigger margins to get the count up that high – though possibly they have twenty pages of adverts at the end), so it’s really only just barely a novella. The price for the ebook was £2.22 which, though a little steep for one hundred pages, was acceptable (note I did not realise this when I bought the book resulting in immediate disappointment when I started reading). However this is where the fair pricing starts to go significantly downhill; the paperback edition (remember just one hundred pages) is £9.99 and the hardback £13.20! No matter how I look at that, it would be daylight robbery even if it was from an acclaimed literary genius, which I’m afraid Wells definitely is not. But the worst is yet to come; the next three books so far published are the same short length, have no paperback edition and the ebooks are £7.59 while the hardbacks are £13.36… for one hundred page books! I’m sorry but no matter how good the books are, and this first one is not that good, there is no way I will pay that much for so little. And that, not the content, is why I’m giving this book just 1 star. Note that the fifth book is apparently going to be a full novel length; I wonder how much that will be priced at!

If you have money to throw away then these books are probably worth reading; I do not have that much spare money.
 

picklematrix

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#2
£2.22 is reasonsble enough for an ebook i guess. Those other prices though? Yikes! That can't be a prudent pricing model. What avid reader can afford to spend that much per word?
 

Robert Zwilling

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#3
The price of the book has a tremendous input on whether I will get it or not. Since I'm not burning money anymore, I only look at books I can afford.

I relied on US Amazon to produce/publish my paper back book once I saw how easy it was to take Amazon's E-book format to a paperback format using free programs they provide. The royalty formulas force higher prices. You don't get 70 percent royalty until you are charging more that $2.99 per E-book. Below that it is 30 percent. I though the same type of royalty scale would be on the paperback but it wasn't. First you use 60 percent of the selling price as the amount that is used to compute the royalty payment. Then you subtract Amazon's cost of printing the book on demand, which turned out to be $4.07 for a 286 page book using 8 point font. Glossy cover didn't add anything. I don't know how the price works for shorter books, what the minimum is. I priced the paperback at $11.75, for that I get $2.98. I always wondered why paperbacks on Amazon can be so pricey. On the other hand, it really was effortless to set up the paperback, you just can't charge a cheap price using Amazon as the printer. Or maybe it's all like that. The allowable minimum price was around $7, which means Amazon is willing to distribute your paper back book at a cheap price but you don't get any money for it.

It seems to me that the lengths of the different formats, short story, novella, story, have been shrinking over the years. Maybe the parameters did include the shorter lengths but no one made shorter stories, they were just longer because that's what people expected. I don't know if it's the cost or what people prefer, or just that it is easier to write shorter stories plot and character wise. Maybe even the phone readers are driving it. The phones are changing everything. Some of the advice I got was to make a trilogy out of it so the first book could be free, but it seemed to be on the short side for three books. No problem they said. A two parter, duologoy(?) just didn't break in half satisfactorily the way the story played out. The end of the first book was no ending. To make the original plot thinner I had already cut out material that was interesting to me but only seemed to lead readers astray. Supposedly the real solution was to cut out a whole lot of the story so Jack and Jill went up the hill to get a bucket of water became Jack and Jill appeared wet. I wrote what I wanted to write. And of course, the next story will be designed to fit the allotted format (just like on TV) using the minimum length, which I believe is now coming in at 49,000 words. Yeah, right.
 

Vertigo

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#4
...No problem they said. A two parter, duologoy(?) just didn't break in half satisfactorily the way the story played out...
Sadly, to my dismay, there now seem to be lot of authors not bothered by that particular point. I can't count how many series now just end each volume at an arbitrary point.

I'm also afraid the cynic in me says the author (and publisher, of course, in fact it may be the publisher making this decision) knows full well that they will make (a lot) more money from selling (in Wells' case) four incredibly short books at full book prices that combining them into one normal (by modern standards 400 pages is a perfectly normal length) length book and still only being able to charge a little more for that book.
 

dannymcg

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#6
I always thought indie authors starting out charged very little just to get their books known about.
Once they get a contract or become an 'established name' the prices creep up a bit. (In my experience as a compulsive book buyer!)

However those prices sound ridiculous and, even though online reviews sound interesting, I'll be giving the murderbot series a miss
 

Vertigo

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#7
In fairness they don't have paperbacks out yet for the latter three volumes so maybe the ebooks will come down once they're out. But even so they are really way too high for the page count for all of the formats.
 

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