Wednesday, 5 July 2017

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red by Martha Wells is a novella I have heard a lot of people saying a lot of good things about. The only other book I've read by Martha Wells was kind of meh, so I'm glad the critical mass of people praising this book was well and truely exceeded for me to pick it up. It was an excellent read.

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.

All Systems Red had me from the opening paragraph which, as I immediately tweeted, was a delight. It's told in first person from the point of view of a cyborg. A bored cyborg who has gained free will and really just wants to watch TV between half-arsing its contractual duties enough to hide its illegal free will. Unfortunately, the survey mission that should have been straightforward and relatively dull — from Murderbot's point of view, if not the scientists it's protecting — turns out to be anything but.

This novella was brief but excellent. It had mystery, danger, adventure, a compelling voice and made me laugh many times. It was also an interesting look at humanity and where the lines are drawn. Murderbot counts as machinery rather than as human because of how it was constructed. But it still feels emotions and has independent thoughts and we get the impression that even if it hadn't given itself free will it would still be having these thoughts and feelings, it just wouldn't be able to act on them. On the one hand considered non-human, on the other sentient and enslaved. And we see augmented humans who have some similarities with Murderbots in terms of data processing and telemetry (for lack of a better word) but are definitely human. I assume these are themes that will be explored further in the sequel novellas.

All Systems Red was an excellent read and I recommend it to all fans of speculative fiction. It's a quick read and you don't even have to like robots or military SF to enjoy it. I cannot wait until the next novella comes out. I was sad when All Systems Red ended, not because it was a bad ending but because there was no more Murderbot to read and now I have to wait until next January for more.

5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2017, Tor.com
Series: The Murderbot Diaries 1 of a planned 4 so far
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased on iBooks

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