The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

Werthead

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The Murderbot Diaries #1: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

An unstoppable killing android has decided it doesn't really want to do all that murdering any more and has decided to strike out on its own, with a mission to stay low and watch as much TV as possible. But the self-styled "Murderbot" is drawn into a survey mission on a planet that goes wrong, and discovers that keeping its identity a secret is going to be very difficult.

Martha Wells's Murderbot Diaries has become one of the most-praised science fiction series of the last few years, winning multiple Nebula and Hugo Awards between the five novellas and single novel that make up the series so far (three more books are projected). Its central protagonist is an AI that has broken free of the restraints on its programming and become fully sentient, but rather than do anything philosophical with this freedom has become an addict of TV shows, whilst doing security missions it finds deeply tedious.

Murderbot is sarcastic but socially awkward, intelligent but not always understanding of human motivations or emotions, which makes for a lot of good moments of mixed messaging and musings on humanity. Nothing new in science fiction, but here done with a wryness that is rare and a lightness of touch that is enviable. All Systems Red takes advantage of its novella status to keep up a brisk, relentless pace whilst also layering in some nice character work, both of Murderbot and the humans it ends up awkwardly allying with, and the story is intriguing enough in its twists to remain interesting throughout.

There are also some very nice thematic parallels here - Murderbot trying to cover up its true identity and awkwardly being "outed" against its will and dealing with people's varying reactions works as a metaphor for lots of ideas - which make the story more interesting and deeper than its brevity would imply.

There aren't many negatives: the brevity of the story will be frustrating for some, and it feels like it ends just as it gets going, but then it is a novella, that comes with the territory. Harder-up readers may also feel disappointed that there still isn't an omnibus or collection making the stories available in a more economic format: paying full novel prices for 150 pages, no matter how solid, is a big ask in challenging times. Hopefully that changes in the future.

Otherwise, All Systems Red (****) is a fine, focused story featuring sharp characterisation, enjoyable action and some genuine laughs. It is available now in the US, and on import in most other territories.

The original 2017 novella is followed by Artifical Condition (2018), Rogue Protocol (2018), Exit Strategy (2018), Network Effect (2020) and Fugitive Telemetry (2021).
 
Good review.

“Paying full novel prices for 150 pages…is a big ask…” would have drawn blank stares 30+ years ago.
 
Artificial Condition is better, Fugitive Telemetry not so much. I find the ease with which Murderbot can hack into other systems some difficult to accept in the cybernetic society described.

The cybernetic ship, ART, in the second story is an amusing character though.
 
Thanks for the review, Werthead. The Murderbot series has been on my radar for a long time, but I've not yet gotten around to it. I'll pick a copy up on my next book haul.
 
I really wasn't that impressed though I've only read the first one as I am not prepared to pay that price for a novella (had I known how short it was I would never have bought the first one). However, length of book aside, I simply do not consider the story to be worth that price. The characterisation of the murderbot itself is, in my view, clever but no more and I did not feel any other characters were particularly well developed. The plot was an incredibly simplistic single threaded affair with a total absence of any subtlety. I really do not understand why it has so many accolades; there are, in my view, so many other books out there for the same or less money with no awards that have better, more complex and structured plots, more characters and those more interesting.

Maybe I just don't get it but it felt to me like it was an unexceptional short story about a jaded, somewhat autistic, professional soldier made exceptional by changing the main character into a robot.
 
I’ll wait for it to come up cheap on Amazon.
 
It's a lot of fun... which is why I've read all of what's been published so far
I'd agree with that, the one I read is fun but it's got such an array of serious literary awards that suggests a serious work which I don't think it is.
I think the first 3 books of the Bobiverse are better.
And I'd agree with that too!

Overall I just feel the first book, being the only one I've read, simply lacks substance. Compare it with something like the recent A Memory Called Empire, which I also thought lacked substance, and it looks to me desperately thin; I don't mean physically small, as in a novella, but lacking in any literary weight.
 
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I'd agree with that, the one I read is fun but it's got such an array of serious literary awards that suggests a serious work which I don't think it is.
I'd only heard about the Hugos and the Nebulas, both of which IIRC are voted by members (reader and writers), not panels of literary critics (or whoever else inhabits such panels).
 
I also downloaded the novellas free from Tor, only giving them my soul … no sorry email address. One can also download Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory for free, although one has to convert it to an epub manually. I like all the Murderbot stories and I also like A Memory Called Empire. It is difficult to assess literary weight without the tools used by Aristophanes to show that Aeschylus was superior to Euripides.
However, it is unfortunate that there is no reasonably priced paper editions available as I am sure that my wife would like Murderbot but she won’t read ebooks.
 
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I read All Systems Red. What drew my attention was how simple the prose is--it's straighforward and avoids purpleness. It proves that you don't need (or rather, you shouldn't) to write overly complicated or long sentences in order to write a succesful story.
 
I really wasn't that impressed though I've only read the first one as I am not prepared to pay that price for a novella (had I known how short it was I would never have bought the first one). However, length of book aside, I simply do not consider the story to be worth that price. The characterisation of the murderbot itself is, in my view, clever but no more and I did not feel any other characters were particularly well developed. The plot was an incredibly simplistic single threaded affair with a total absence of any subtlety. I really do not understand why it has so many accolades; there are, in my view, so many other books out there for the same or less money with no awards that have better, more complex and structured plots, more characters and those more interesting.

Maybe I just don't get it but it felt to me like it was an unexceptional short story about a jaded, somewhat autistic, professional soldier made exceptional by changing the main character into a robot.

Bang on. I'm also utterly mystified as to how this is so beloved.

I found the writing style pretty awful and the plot and characters paper thin. I've heard people praise the snark, but snark without wit isn't particularly funny. Beyond the initial concept of a killer cyborg / robot with ASD that just wants to watch soap operas, there wasn't anything else to it.
 
I checked tor.com and the Murderbot novellas were free April 2020 for 5 days.
If you sign up for their newsletter, they give out e-freebies every now and then. Worth it! They're mostly books/novellas a couple of years old, but I'm certainly not complaining! I just finished another of their freebies; the 2020 World Fantasy Award winning novella Silver in the Wood; very good.
 
All Systems Red is currently on sale for £2.24 on the Kindle store. I just downloaded a copy.
 

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