With the release of a new Murderbot novella in May, I thought now would be a great time to dive into the previously-released set. I have been looking forward to reading Martha Wells’ The Murderbot Diaries for a long time, and I have heard nothing but great things. My plan is to start with the first set of 4 novellas, then move on to Network Effect (book 5 in the Murderbot series and the first full-length novel), then finish with Fugitive Telemetry (book 6 and the next novella in line). Murderbot is off to a great start with this first set of books! Read on to find out more.
Overall Series Rating: 9/10
A murderous android discovers itself in All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that interrogates the roots of consciousness through Artificial Intelligence.
“As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.”
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.
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.
Let’s not bury the lede, here, and get right to the crux of what makes The Murderbot Diaries what it is: the rogue SecUnit known as Murderbot, though not everyone knows its name.
I had given myself a name, but it was private.
Clearly, this is a character-driven series, and you will not find a more perfect main protagonist than Murderbot. It is awkward and does not like humans. Is there anything it does enjoy?
I couldn’t wait to get back to my wild rogue rampage of hitching rides on bot-piloted transports and watching my serials.
So, robots and television? Got it. There is so much to love about Murderbot, it is almost sad that it hates humans so much (though, it has its reasons, to be sure). It is always the smartest sentient in the room. It can hack the hell out of any electronic system or thing. And it always has a snarky comeback (that it will never say to your face, rather think to itself).
Murderbot is not the only great character. There is cast of bots and humans that is constantly changing, and it is fun to see how Murderbot reacts to interacting with new beings. One mainstay is a bot-piloted transport named Perihelion, whom Murderbot befriends and lovingly calls ART. You might ask where it came up with that name.
My giant Asshole Research Transport is too busy to complain at.
Oh, I get it now! Seriously, though, the interactions between Murderbot and ART are some of the most fun interactions in the whole series to keep an eye on. If characters are the driving factor of a series, they need to be well-written, and Murderbot is one of the best I have ever encountered.
The plot of the series is fascinating from the start, when we first meet Murderbot and learn that it is a rogue android who is pretending to fall in line as it was programmed. It is a huge attention-grabber, and once Murderbot has ahold of you it does not let go (though, honestly, it probably wants to because you disgust it). This is a story of self-discovery more than anything, subtly inserted into a storyline full of action and information.
The best part about the story is the fact that it is narrated by Murderbot, who is trying to find its place in the world. As it discovers more and more about itself and the places and people around it, the reader experiences all of that right along with it. I really enjoy how Murderbot describes everything it comes across and all of its actions and thoughts in extreme detail. In other books I might complain about constant info dumping, but it does not feel that way with Murderbot. It feels immersive. This is a writing tactic that makes the story more intimate and demands the reader make a strong connection to the main character. And Murderbot will take you for a ride.
I will say I am happy that I read all 4 books in one shot, as opposed to one at a time. Doing so allowed the narrative to feel like a cohesive, comprehensive storyline with mini, localized climaxes as part of larger, more gratifying story. Had I read them all at release I might have felt less satisfied. I would have still really been into it because Murderbot itself is so interesting, but I think it would have seemed less polished.
You will have to read the books to find out if Murderbot lives up to its name,though. Or you can always ask one of Murderbot’s human friends.
Rami admitted, “We know it doesn’t sounds like a good idea to go to.”
It was a great idea if you wanted to be murdered.
That is maybe not such a good idea. Any other thoughts on the matter?
If you had to take care of humans, it was better to take of small soft ones who were nice to you and thought you were great because you kept preventing them from being murdered.
See? It does have a sensitive side.
The world building was done in a really interesting way, exposing the reader to more micro than macro. Wells makes a lot of deliberate choices here as to what to tell us – or have Murderbot tell us – and what not to reveal about this futuristic space world in that basically the reader gets only what it requires to continue the narrative. The only pieces we get about the world at-large is what matters to the plot in the moment. There is no big explanation of everything.
We do, however, get constant descriptions and information about the world directly in front of us, and that is due to Murderbot needing to process that information to carry the story along. Instead of saying “I hacked the bot’s communication system”, Murderbot tells us in detail: what kind of bot, what kind of system, and the details about the hack. As I mentioned before, it is constant information, but that goes back to the intimacy of the story between the reader and Murderbot. It always seems relevant and well-integrated and never feels overdone.
There are many themes that are explored in this series, starting with agency and self-discovery, as I mentioned before. This is pretty heavily addressed throughout the story as Murderbot tries to figure out what to do with its newfound freedom.
Another big theme for me is prejudice and discrimination. Murderbot is the “other” in this world, and finds many people who are not happy with its freedom. Everywhere it goes people give it strange looks and point their security cameras at it. People shy away, afraid to get too close. This is mainly due to the way SecUnits are portrayed in the media as ruthless killing machines. People do not treat it as a person and almost never think about its feelings. These issues are addressed mostly with humor and snark in the books, but I found myself at times feeling profoundly sad about it. That comes across from Murderbot, as well, just in much more subtle ways.
Overall, The Murderbot Diaries is so much fun! It’s a snarky, grumpy, tv-watching android plus a lot of stupid humans and interesting robots. It is often fast-paced, too, as Murderbot tends to find itself in situations that require action – and it never hesitates when lives are on the line. I highly recommend The Murderbot Diaries.