How Martha Wells came to write Murderbot

Here’s something I fortuitously saw on Twitter: Introduction to the Subterranean edition of The Murderbot Diaries

This particularly caught my eye because I was just wondering whether Murderbot was inspired at all by Breq in Ancillary Justice. Not that authors necessarily know what all got stirred together in their subconscious and resulted in a new writing project of their own, but let’s see what Martha had in mind when she first developed this character and world …

One of the questions I get asked a lot is what inspired the character. I think people want/expect there to be a crystal clear single moment where something tangible and identifiable sparked the idea. But there really wasn’t; or if there was, I don’t remember it. What I remember is a whole lot of things, all coming together at once.

It started when I was working on the ending of The Harbors of the Sun, the last novel in the Books of the Raksura series. It was the conclusion of the series, and I was sweating over it. This was the series that, with great difficulty and many setbacks, dragged my career back from the dead, and I loved it and wanted to do the finale justice.

I was having something like a creative surge, with ideas for new books, fanfiction, redecorating my house, digging up my backyard, all kinds of things. (My brain is what we call non-neurotypical and sometimes it goes very fast.) One day, somewhere in there, the plot idea popped up for an enslaved security person who had destroyed their governor module but would have to reveal that to save an innocent group of scientists. I had an image of a scene which turned into the moment in All Systems Red where Mensah knocks on the wall of Murderbot’s cubicle, an act of transgression which sets off the story.

A few comments:

A) Yes, Martha had recently read Ancillary Justice.

B) She originally planned a sad ending to the first novella! Aaaaah! I feel like we really dodged a bullet there. I’m so glad Martha changed her mind about that!

C) “I was sick of being told that if you’re not completely open and spilling your feelings for the approval of everyone around you then you must not have any feelings.”

YES, THANK YOU. No wonder I fell for Murderbot so fast and hard.

I didn’t really notice this until COVID YEAR FROM HELL, and suddenly all sorts of people were declaring on Facebook, “If you don’t declare your opinion about whatever, I’M JUDGING YOU,” basically in those words. I kept thinking, “Oh, yeah, me too, I definitely judge everyone I know by the moral poses they strike on social media.” Ugh!

D) Martha and I were once on a panel together at some convention or other, and wow, was it obvious that our writing methods are very similar to each other and not at all similar to anyone else on the panel. I thought of that again reading the above selection of the linked post. I also think of complete scenes, embedded in the setting, first, and then write onward or outward from those scenes.

Anyway, interesting post, by all means click through and read the rest.

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3 thoughts on “How Martha Wells came to write Murderbot”

  1. It never occurred to me Otter would bind a trellwolf. Otter had her own past to overcome, and in any case never had the least interest in being a warrior. Ending up in charge of a wolf-hall is no small feat. Alfgyfa, on the other hand, had foreshadowing as a mystical warrior when she could still barely talk.

  2. An unhappy note she buries deep in the essay: “Each subsequent novella has been harder to write than the previous one.” Ouch.

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