BOOK REVIEW: ALL SYSTEMS RED BY MARTHA WELLS

Reading

I get book recs from a variety of sources—Twitter, from both friends and authors I follow, reviews (io9 and Tor.com are both great resources), friends IRL, and, frequently, my son. Eric is a high school English teacher with a taste in books remarkably similar to mine. We do have some differences in likes, particularly his obsession with massive, multi-volume fantasy series, which I just don’t have enough time to fully appreciate. So many books, so little reading time. But, usually, when he suggests something, chances are I’ll like it.

Which brings us to The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. He’s been singing the Murderbot praises for a couple of years, and now that I’ve read All Systems Red, the first in the series, I’m upset with myself for waiting so long. My only excuse is, so many books, etc.

This book is so much fun it should be illegal. All Systems Red is a novella (as are, I believe, all the other volumes except for the most recent), and it’s a fast, breathless read. Murderbot, as it refers to itself, is a SecUnit, a security android of sorts, contracted out to protect teams of scientists as they explore distant planets. A couple important things to keep in mind here. First, Murderbot has hacked its own system, and is more self-aware than anyone knows. It may be a man-made creation that’s part machine and part organic, but it definitely has a mind of its own. And second, the future Wells has envisioned is very corporate and cutthroat, so things don’t always work like they should. Think lowest bidders and corporate espionage.

Wells’ world building is solid and inventive. She manages the difficult trick of throwing the reader headlong into her world, without a massive info dump, while giving enough context clues that I settled right in and never felt lost. In All Systems Red, we have rival corporate exploratory groups, mass murder, and a harrowing game of cat and mouse. All of it is well thought out and utterly believable. The science, and make no mistake, this is hard science fiction, feels right. The scientists Murderbot is assigned to protect are nicely differentiated. They are characters in their own right, and never read like chess pieces Wells is just moving around the board.

The genius here, though, the true genius, is in the character of Murderbot itself. It narrates in its own distinctive voice, and let me tell you, Murderbot has issues. It’s sarcastic, a little world-weary, and not all that fond of humans, to the point where it’s not so enthusiastic about protecting them. It would prefer some alone time so it can watch the hundreds of hours of entertainment (read futuristic soap operas) it has saved to its memory. Murderbot may step up and save the day when lives are on the line, but not without a lot of grumbling.

All Systems Red is also wildly funny, which I was not prepared for. I found myself genuinely laughing more than once. Wells has already won Hugos and Nebulas, and The Murderbot Diaries is Hugo nominated this year for best series. I say, give her all the awards. I’ll be adding the other Murderbot books into regular rotation in my TBR pile.

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