Murderbot has no friends. Murderbot has no family. Murderbot doesn’t even have a name – unless you count ‘Murderbot’. All it wants is to do its job, survive it, and figure out its own identity. And try to catch up on its favourite serials.
It’s time to review All Systems Red, the first of The Murderbot Diaries novellas by Martha Wells, for SciFi Month!
This may be a short review. It may be a rambling one. It will definitely be a glowing review, because I fell so hard in love with Murderbot, I am still spinning. So buckle up.
The first thing I want to note is that this novella defied whatever expectations I had. I’d expected a thoughtful exploration of what it means to be AI, whether a ‘droid can learn to be human, the usual thinky SF fare when it comes to artificial intelligence. With some well-timed explosions and (obviously) murder thrown in, yes please and thank you.
Martha Wells took a sledgehammer to my expectations, mainly because Murderbot has very few charitable thoughts toward its human employers, never mind wanting to be like them. This was clearly not going to be a Pinocchio-type story full of heartfelt longing and misunderstood souls. Why tread that same old path when we can have this socially awkward, inwardly belligerent, introverted human-android construct with a wit as dry as a desert and no time for trying to fit in among the meatsacks?
It takes a clever and very sure hand to create an AI, or AI-adjacent, character who has zero interest in learning to be human and yet feels so intensely relatable, but Wells hit this nail on the head. By presenting Murderbot as severely introverted, I instantly felt like I got it.
(Them? I want to say ‘them’. If I interchange the pronouns, I apologise SEE THIS IS WHAT I MEAN.)
There is an element of inviting sympathy here, but at the same time I got no sense that this is Wells holding out a metaphorical hat and begging for scraps of your feelings. You can like Murderbot, or be creeped out or repelled by it, but Murderbot is not here for your feelings. Murderbot is here to protect the meatsacks and then to be left alone, thank you very much. Murderbot can figure out its own feelings without humans interfering.
And yet, Murderbot eventually begins to refer to its employers, the team of scientists it’s protecting on this mission, as ‘my humans’. Yeah, I noticed that, Ms Wells, you sneaky writer you.
Murderbot’s progress toward becoming comfortable around humans is slow, painfully hesitant and unavoidably awkward for all involved. There are no hugs and breakthroughs in equality here, at least not immediately. This book is full of neat surprises, from the action-packed mission to the not-at-all resolved aftermath it finishes on – but that just leaves me gasping for the next book.
I don’t want to ramble, so it turns out this review will be a short one after all. I will simply say that if you’ve read this yourself, I am so terribly sorry I took so long. If you haven’t, I will say DO IT. DO IT NOW. YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU’RE MISSING.
I love Murderbot. Do you love Murderbot?