Friday Review: All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries 1) by Martha Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In this first of four novellas, we are introduced to Murderbot (its own name for itself) a part-organic, part-android Security Unit. The unit managed to hack its own governor unit and become autonomous, although no one knows about that. It has a shady past involving the killing of 57 people on a previous assignment. It’s not really fond of its human bosses, and would prefer to spend all of its time watching serial entertainment programs. Contracted to a team sent to survey an uninhabited planet, it does its job- barely, and shuns any further contact with the rest of the team. When the team is attacked by a native carnivore, they discover that parts of the information and maps they were given for this mission are missing. And when a second team of surveyors is attacked by mysterious forces, Murderbot starts to realize there is something more going on, and in order to fulfill its job to protect the rest of the team, it just might have to get more involved with the humans than it likes.

This was a delight of a novella. For all its insistence that it is not human and couldn’t care less about interacting with or, heaven forbid, actually liking its teammates, Murderbot’s personality really shines in this short piece. It may deny its humanity, but there’s an awful lot of the familiar in that construct’s personality. The rest of the characters are good, but not as well formed. This is a novella, and a short one at that, so some of that is forgivable, especially since they are engaging enough that I, like Murderbot, didn’t want to see them harmed. Worldbuilding is good, but again, not as comprehensive as might be in a longer work. Still, the setting and other trappings work. The plot is fairly standard: corporations cutting corners to increase profits, greedy companies willing to do anything to make money, and a small, but feisty, group out to foil their plans. Nothing spectacularly new, but again, it works well, and Murderbot makes the story shine.

The novella won the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, and the American Library Association’s Alex Award, and was nominated for the 2017 Philip K. Dick Award. It is worth the read.

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