Review: All Systems Red

Posted: February 7, 2019 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Martha Wells, Science Fiction, Short Fiction

Last week in my interview with S.K. Dunstall (see it here), they mentioned loving Martha Wells’ Murderbot stories. With such high praise from an author-duo I enjoy, how could I resist?

I’ve been missing out. Murderbot is totally worth reading.

ALL SYSTEMS RED is Martha Wells’ 2018 Hugo Award winning novella about a security clone-robot hyrid assigned to a group of planetary scientists. You learn from page one that this SecUnit (security unit) is beyond the ordinary. For example, it has hacked the governor module that controls its ability to follow orders — and now Murderbot can do whatever it wants, including spending all its free time watching soap operas. But the way one is built and has lived one’s life is a powerful thing, and Murderbot doesn’t immediately abandon its assignment. Instead, it has unexpectedly become attached to its group of eight human scientists, and its instinct to protect them surprises even it.

Told from Muderbot’s PoV, at first I was a little concerned that I’d be stuck with a dry narrative about the humans it’s there to protect. Instead readers will quickly learn that Murderbot has quirks of its own, and it isn’t as predictable as a robot would be. It’s this very mishmash of contradictory and expected behaviors that you’ll spend the novella sorting out — you’ll want to understand this part-human robot as you’re carried along with the story. AI can be tricky to write well, but Martha Wells’ characterization is fascinating and invites complicated questions that will make readers think.

Hugo Award winning novella with a 'hero' who calls itself Murderbot. Makes one wonder how much of a hero such a self-named construct can be?

Early on the scientists find they need Murderbot to protect them from unexpected hazards; but a mystery unfolds as they discover that the real hazards of studying a planet may not be the planet itself, but other humans. The setting is less about the planet, and more about the politics and greed that influence human interactions. What’s most interesting is how Murderbot behaves and its interactions with the humans. There’s also the question of how SecUnits are created and designed, which does matter to the story, and I suspect will be important in subsequent Murderbot stories.

ALL SYSTEMS RED is short and engaging, totally worth an afternoon’s read. Currently it’s $4.99 on Kindle.

  • Recommended Age: 13+
  • Language: A handful
  • Violence: Blood and death, but not gruesome
  • Sex: None; a reference to a sexbot but without detail

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