Futuristic science fiction. Space travel. Pilfering resources from uninhabited planets. Security robots. Martha Wells combines these elements seamlessly in her newest novella, All Systems Red: The MurderBot Diaries.
The story is told from the perspective of a security robot, or SecUnit, with a dark past. This particular robot has hacked its governor module, the device that keeps it under human control and ensures that it follows the rules set up for it. Without an active governor module, the SecUnit is able to do whatever it chooses without risk of punishment. However, the only thing it wants to do is endlessly watch “serials,” the futuristic equivalents of the soap operas your grandma loves.
The SecUnit refers to itself solely as MurderBot for the first half of the novella. This is an interesting character trait, but it can be confusing when you’re still learning who all the characters are. It takes a while to realize that MurderBot, SecUnit, and “I” all refer to the same robot – our protagonist.
MurderBot doesn’t like humans. It feels uncomfortable around them beause it doesn’t want to risk revealing the truth about its hacked governor module. If anyone finds out about this situation, MurderBot will be sent back to the company, taken apart, and incorporated into other robots with functioning governor modules. Essentially, MurderBot would loose any sense of freedom or humanity it has if this secret is discovered, and it does not want that.
MurderBot proves useful to its clients when it rescues them time and time again, something normal SecUnits would not be able to do because of limitations by the governor module. But why does it keep having to rescue its clients? Who wants them dead?
I’ve got to be honest with you all, it took me a while to get into this story. I never really got to know most of the characters – they’re mostly interchangeable in my mind. Even by the end, I liked MurderBot and the others enough, but not enough to make me wish the story was longer. I also had some qualms with the narration style: I found it inconsistent. There were interesting changes in tone of MurderBot’s internal monologue which, at times, were jarring and off-putting.
My favorite part was that it wasn’t slow to start. The action started almost immediately. If not for the action, I don’t know if I would have finished this particular story. It was slow to interest me.
In short I didn’t love it, but I liked it enough.
It’s definitely worth a read if you’re interested in human characteristics like empathy in a robot that calls itself MurderBot, of all things. The novella would be great for people who want a quick, fun read filled with sci-fi action, undermining corporate corruption, and, of course, robots.
Since I have to give it a rating, I’ll give it a 2.5/5.
All Systems Red: The MurderBot Diaries will be published on May 2, 2017. Look for it on Amazon