Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1
Also by this author: Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, #2)
Published by Tor.com on May 2nd 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
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 long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.
I don’t read many novellas or short stories, but All Systems Red by Martha Wells is a great example of why I should read more. It’s a fun and exciting story that’s also quick and well paced. Also, while this was my first book by Martha Wells, it certainly won’t be the last.
The story features a team of scientists that are on an exploratory mission. And because of this, they are required to have a Company supplied security android, or secUnit for short, along for the ride. In this world, all space missions must be approved by the Company and because profits drive everything, lower bids win. This doesn’t exactly encourage advancement so much as cutting corners.
One of the first things I enjoyed about the book is that the main character, the secUnit on this expedition, refers to itself as ‘Murderbot’. Such a silly thing, to enjoy a name, but its not *just* the name, but the entire attitude and disposition behind it. I guess in real life something that calls itself Murderbot might be scary or undesirable to have around, but in a book? Murderbot is awesome. And once you get to know it, at least if you are like me, you really want to just find a way to hang out with Murderbot. Even knowing that hanging out with me is probably the last thing that Murderbot would actually want. It would prefer to be left alone to do its own thing. I just can’t put to words how relatable this robot designed for murder is. I found the perspective fresh and very direct and honest (at least honest for itself, there’s always going to be some question of reliability, especially for a character that is programmed to dismiss things that it deems irrelevant, but you get the feeling that Murderbot just calls it how it sees it.). And for a glimpse of the funner side, Murderbot has hacked into its own software and has some unexpected behavior, like binge-watching tv shows.
An interesting question I saw posed in the discussions over at r/Fantasy, was asking what gender people defaulted Murderbot to. I hadn’t really noticed there wasn’t an assigned gender, and firmly read the character as female, even with listening to the audiobook which had a male narrator. But others defaulted to male. Just an interesting thing to think about. I’ve also read Lock-In and Head-On by Scalzi, which also has a main character where the gender is not defined. That book I defaulted to male, and I always assumed maybe it was because of the narrator. But this book makes me question that reason a bit.
I’ve been so behind on all my reading, was really nice to finish something so quick (since it was so short). I always gravitate to full length novels, but really should make more of an effort to read some more shorter fiction. Though, its hard to feel completely satisified with resolutions in books that are so short, there’s just not the page space to always give enough build up and details on a conflict, and resolve in a way that doesn’t feel completely fabricated (give it some more plausibility, even if it is all fiction). With this, I felt fully engaged the entire time, I’m left wanting to continue on reading about Murderbot and I also feel satisfied with the resolution. Definitely recommend for anyone looking for a quick fun read with a slightly murderous security android that also enjoys binge watching in its free time.