Review: Activation Degradation by Marina J. Lostetter

Rating: 7/10


The Murderbot Diaries makes first contact in this new, futuristic, standalone novel exploring sentience and artificial intelligence through the lenses of conflicted robot hero Unit Four, from Marina Lostetter, critically acclaimed author of Noumenon, Noumenon Infinity, and Noumenon Ultra.

When Unit Four—a biological soft robot built and stored high above the Jovian atmosphere—is activated for the first time, it’s in crisis mode. Aliens are attacking the Helium-3 mine it was created to oversee, and now its sole purpose is to defend Earth’s largest energy resource from the invaders in ship-to-ship combat.

But something’s wrong. Unit Four doesn’t feel quite right.

There are files in its databanks it can’t account for, unusual chemical combinations roaring through its pipes, and the primers it possesses on the aliens are suspiciously sparse. The robot is under orders to seek and destroy. That’s all it knows.

According to its handler, that’s all it needs to know.

Determined to fulfill its directives, Unit Four launches its ship and goes on the attack, but it has no idea it’s about to get caught in a downward spiral of misinformation, reprograming, and interstellar conflict.

Most robots are simple tools. Unit Four is well on its way to becoming something more….


First of all, this book is nothing like the Muderbot Diaries (referred in blurb) other than the fact we have Cyborg (?) MCs. If you’re looking at a Murderbot’esque read, this is not it. This book offers something unique on it’s own which got muddled (initially) because of that reference.

The book just throws you right in the middle of action from Page 1. We have a just (and incorrectly) reconstituted Unit 4 waking up on a mining station which is being attacked by Invaders. We follow Unit 4 as it tries to orient itself not just to the ‘grogginess’ of premature waking up but also to the crappy tactical situation it is waking up to. The battle scenes are vividly done and the prose actually put me in the shoes of Unit 4. Very realistic!

The plot progresses as we get to know details of the dynamics of the immediate battle from Unit 4’s discussions with it’s handlers and the overall macro world opens up nicely. It’s done very organically and though there are a few info dumps the book does not suffer for them.

The way the book plot is structured makes it hard to write a review without spoiler-ing the whole shebang, but let’s just say Unit 4’s decisions leads it to a new journey of discovery that will rock both itself and the reader to the core. I managed to predict few of the twists, but then the author still successfully pulled the rug from out under me closer to the climax. Interesting turn of events, to say in the least!

Whereas Murderbot is more charming and fun, Unit Four is a more realistic and gritty. We get to see it on the back foot from the get go as it tried to get a handle on a shitty tactical situation it woke up to and then we see it struggling to keep its head up as the events and their implications spiral out of context and control.  The human elements in the plot though done well had a Hollywood-y convenient feel to it and without having the time for natural progression. I had a similar impression with the climax too. It had the feel of a movie script. Not that it’s bad, but just didn’t have a take I found novel.

Overall, I had a good time reading it. If you’re looking for a space drama with action, this should be in your TBR!

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