Friday, May 5, 2017

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

[Tor Novella]
★★★★★ Thrilling, Thoughtful, Touching

(SF Thriller; Murderbot Diaries) A “security bot” assigned to support a survey team impresses them with its competence as a series of things go wrong. What they don’t know is that it has disabled the governor that prevents it from hurting people. (31,128 words; Time: 1h:43m)

Recommended By: RHorton+2 Nebula+2 Hugo+2 Locus+2

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Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

The overarching plot is that MurderBot wants its freedom. From the first page, where we learn it has hacked its governor, to the last page, where it heads into space “out of inventory and out of sight,” this one goal is always in the background.

It wants freedom, but on its own terms. The PreservationAux crew want it to be free, but they want it to be an honorary human. It constantly bristles at their well-intended overtures because they can’t accept it for what it is—or even understand it.

Inside that framework, there’s almost nonstop action. Rescuing Bharadwaj, investigating the missing scan data, visiting the DeltaFall camp, evacuating their own Hab, and the final confrontation with GrayChris are all miniplots that keep the tension high. Moreover, each episode introduces us to a bit more worldbuilding and a bit more character development—all without a single infodump.

The real genius of this story is that by the end we think we know MurderBot pretty well. We like it, and yet we’re very aware that it isn’t human and never will be.

Beyond that, dialogue is consistently natural, the narration is never obtrusive, and all the key plot points are adequately foreshadowed. Bravo!

On a minor note, the stupid, greedy, slightly inept company is far more reasonable than the cardboard-villain “EvilCorp” that spoils so many stories.

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8 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. (As mentioned elsewhere...) I also thought this was excellent. The sardonic character of Murderbot helped keep the tone a bit lighter than the title would suggest, and it combined interesting SF with enjoyable action.

  2. It's endearing that Murderbot keeps saying how it doesn't care, and yet its actions demonstrate over and over that it really does care.

  3. I loved this story, too! It's going on my Hugo nominee list. Wells reliably writes engaging, character-driven fantasy. She's on my auto-buy in HB list.

    1. I definitely look forward to reading the next installment.

  4. I really enjoyed this story. It absolutely deserves its 5-star rating.

    Murderbot is a real well-rounded character, even if it is an andriod. The author has done this extremely well, giving it some human traits but still keeping the character "android" - a really good balancing act.

  5. Just added to my Hugo ballot! Excellent characterization and exciting plot. This was very satisfying on its own, but I'm thrilled there will be more.

  6. Normally I dislike anti-social protagonists, but this one is fun. It helps that the author doesn't take things too far. Murderbot is anti-social, but never a jerk.

    Great humor, suspense, and storytelling.


    1. Murderbot is anti-social, but it has very good reasons to be so, and it's not bitter about it. Snarky, but never bitter.

      I suspect the only reason we don't have more recommendations for it from other reviewers is that very few reviewers of short fiction (besides RSR) will review stand-alone novellas, and we're not willing to use reviews from people who mostly do novels.