“Confession time: I don’t actually know where we are…. I hadn’t looked at the maps yet and I’d barely looked at the survey package. In my defense, we’d been here twenty-two planetary days and I hadn’t had to do anything but stand around watching humans make scans or take samples of dirt, rocks, water, and leaves. The sense of urgency just wasn’t there. Also, you may have noticed, I don’t care.”
I can relate to Murderbot, the misanthropic construct who is contracted to provide security detail for a small expedition to a planet. Murderbot, as the A.I. calls itself, it plainly uncomfortable with personal attention, and has little interest in anything outside its scope of concern, namely, its job and entertainment videos. I have to confess, that sounds like me during most of my adolescent years (substitute books for videos and you have me at every family event ever).
Written as a novella, the plot takes off from page two. It isn’t long before both Murderbot and the team realize they’re facing multiple types of danger. Characterization is one of the outstanding parts of the story, with Murderbot’s nature getting a lot of subtle build. The team never stood out to any great degree, but that’s partly because until this expedition, Murderbot has had generally negative experiences with the people it is contracted to protect and assumed this group would be more of the same. The leader, Dr. Mensah, soon distinguishes herself with crisis management and leadership, while an augmented human, Gurathin, presents a different kind of challenge.
My one hesitation in calling it a five star book is the ending, which felt somewhat awkward and incongruous to the personality earlier, which displayed little curiosity or independence. I read the story twice, the second time doing the math on the length of time Murderbot has been independent. I’m guessing around four years, based on its own estimate of 35k hours since it failed to become an uncontrolled killing machine. The resolution felt like a shortcut, and like a logic failure in Murderbot’s circuts. But I’m open to discussion on it.
Final resolution aside, I certainly enjoyed the ride. I predict some kind of award nomination next season. Wells and Tor.com recently announced that the novella is first in a four part series. I’ll be eagerly anticipating the following books. And, if you want to tease yourself, Wells does have the first bit of book two on her site.
“I thought it was likely that the only supplies we would need… was the postmortem kind, but you may have noticed that when I do manage to care, I’m a pessimist.”
Me too, Murderbot. Me too.
Martha Wells has shared the first chapter of All Systems Red here.