Recent Reading: Murderbot Diaries: All Systems Red

So, yesterday I took my car for an oil change, and that’s the sort of situation where a novella seems like a perfect idea. Especially a novella by one of my favorite authors. Thus:

I didn’t make much headway during the oil change because it turned out the guy who did it had his standard poodle with him for the day and she was distracting. Standards are one of my very favorite bigger breeds. Also, the guy got the oil change done in jig time. That means I actually stayed up kinda late to finish this story. I basically never stay up late for any reason other than hovering over newborn puppies, but last night I made an exception.

I don’t much care for the title — “Murderbot” Does not have that certain something I look for in a title. I guess it sounds too grim? The titular character does call itself that, but ironically. There’s a good deal of violence and blood and betrayal in the novella, but the cool voice of the protagonist deemphasizes the violence, so it’s definitely adventure rather than horror. Here’s part of the description from Goodreads:

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid’ — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone…

The protagonist is a construct with both organic parts and tech parts. Definitely a person, it is legally equipment. Generally it’s rented to clients it doesn’t think highly of, by a company it thinks even less of, which as you might imagine has cased it to develop a certain bitter cynicism. Despite this, it can’t help noticing that its current clients are actually pretty nice people. When someone starts trying to kill them all, it gets personally involved … and so the story unrolls, with a fast pace that keeps you involved straight through to the satisfying conclusion.

Coincidentally, the sequel, “Artificial Condition,” became available for pre-order last night. Next January seems a good ways away, but hey, now I can be sure I won’t forget about it. Also, I already know I will enjoy re-reading the first novella before reading the second.

If you like:

I’ve been thinking of Breq from Leckie’s Ancillary series recently, and I must say that Murderbot reminds me of Breq in some important ways. Definitely not human, definitely a person — and actually similar as well in how out of touch it is with its own feelings. This is another take on a nonhuman protagonist who is a good person without ever thinking of itself that way. I think people who appreciated the Ancillary series ought to like this novella quite a bit.

If you lean toward “noblebright” SFF, the niceness of the secondary characters will surely appeal to you. Martha Wells pretty much had to make those characters nice in order to get Murderbot involved in their fate; they also work really well as a counter to the generally grim society we glimpse in the background (the company and most of its clients seem very far from admirable).

I should add, I don’t mean to imply saccharine niceness. These secondary characters are better developed than that, with touches of complexity despite the short (160 pp) format of the story.

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