The Murderbot Diaries is one of the most potently human stories I have read in a long time and I am already jonesing for a reread.
Series Rating: 5 Stars
The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells
All Systems Red: 5 Stars
Artificial Condition: 4.25 Stars
Rogue Protocol: 5 Stars
Exit Strategy: 4.5 Stars
Synopsis for All Systems Red:
“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.
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 (and to watch its favorite show in its downtime.)
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.
I need to confess something: I love Murderbot. Never have I met such a human character that I could relate to so much in a book. But Murderbot is most certainly not human. They are a Security Robot (or SecUnit) meant to protect their humans, who may or may not be getting into all sorts of trouble and/or danger. The difference between a regular SecUnit and Murderbot is they have hacked the part of their system that made them obey their coding and their human owners. And what does Murderbot do with their new-found freedom? Downloads thousands of hours of media and watches TV series as much as possible to avoid their feelings. Same, Murderbot. Same.
While there is an overarching plot of a nefarious corporation committing dastardly deeds, the real meat of the story is Murderbot and their emotional journey. And while I feel like it sounds cheesy as heck to say “emotional journey”, that’s really what these novellas are about (Murderbot would hate me for saying this). Every shift of the plot brings about examinations of why Murderbot is doing what they are doing. I was surprised to find such an emotionally impactfully story in such a short format, that also features stellar worldbuilding and wild action sequences.
What may trip up some readers is the writing style. The novellas are written in first person and from the POV of Murderbot. There is A LOT of telling and not showing, which most would think is a writing sin worthy of a bad review, but it works in the context of these novellas. No one would expect Murderbot to wax poetic about their surroundings and their actions. I’d say at least 75%, if not more, is spent inside of Murderbot’s thoughts, which seems like it would make the prose clunky, but it somehow isn’t. I’m a dialogue addict and will get bored if there isn’t dialogue to break up the story, but that was never an issue in these novellas. With almost any other story, the writing style would have grated my nerves, but here it is perfect for the scope of the story.
I’m not sure why I’m surprised anymore when I get punched in the face with feels from novellas published by Tor.Com Publishing. Tor.com and the authors they publish have a way of bringing the most whackadoodle story concepts to life all while subtly tying your heartstrings into knots. The Murderbot Diaries is one of the most potently human stories I have read in a long time and I am already jonesing for a reread.