First of all, it’s Murderbot. So ‘four stars’ here is about a million for a normal read. But I struggled with Network Effect. Yes, pandemic, yada, yada. The fact is, while I was waiting for this to come out, I was able to read the quartet of novellas back-to-back, and appreciate the sense of growth in ‘Bot’s character,starting from a largely indifferent security AI (“as you may have noticed, I didn’t care”) to a being that risked security and function to save the human who consistently recognized it as its own entity.
Yet despite that tremendous growth, Network Effect opens with a ‘Bot who is behaving more than a little like an adolescent teen. Fair enough, I suppose, as like a young adult, ‘Bot is emotionally conscripted into a job it doesn’t really want to do, working with at least a couple of people it doesn’t really like, for a person it does like but feels conflicted about (talk about first jobs in a nutshell). But it just seemed like too much a couple of times; like Wells had heard back from fans, the agent and the publisher about all the things people loved about Murderbot, and so she took the sarcasm and the emotional unavailability and the situational resolution and turned the dial up to ‘eleven’ for the first chapter. In fact, I feel like she turned back the clock on ‘Bot’s development just to satisfy. Frankly, it disappointed me so badly that I put it aside until I could let my expectations go.
So there we are, expectation-free, and reading again. I still got wriggles on a few of the same lines, but generally was able to relax and just enjoy all of them. When I read: “I said ‘Let him go.’ I didn’t really feel like negotiating. I have a module on it, somewhere in my archive. It was never much help” and chuckled, I knew I was in a good spot.
The narrative is almost entirely from ‘Bot’s viewpoint, and once we pass through the adolescent scenes into the situational investigation and resolution, ‘Bot’s voice is far more tolerable.
Wells did a couple of surprising things with Network, and the most surprising of all is that I somehow remained unaware of them despite reading many reviews. So while we all might know that ART will show up, there’s many twists and turns up Wells’ sleeve, and the solutions that the players arrive at are occasionally surprising as well. I will say that it felt very fast-and-furious, with hardly time to breathe in the last half of the book. I look forward to re-reading at my leisure and paying more attention to the craft of the book, because I think Wells is a fantastic author.