Novellas are a great way to get the feel of a future series. I love the idea of getting a taste of a series without reading 500 pages of the first book. Recently I have read a lot of good novellas which has convinced me that not all great stories need to be thicker than a brick. Martha Wells has done a bang-up job of getting me excited for her future books in the Murderbot series. If the name, Murderbot, wasn’t enough to excite you, the book definitely will.
All Systems Red is about a half-organic, half-machine security bot that likes to call himself (itself? I don’t know) Murderbot. He’s managed to hack its governor module which allows him to circumvent or ignore the commands given to it by its owners or contractors. He’s a sentient security bot that doesn’t have to follow commands but still does so he can get on with life and watch TV shows on the net. Really, just remove the sentient AI part and you can explain his behavior with ‘Netflix & apathy’.
As the story goes, Murderbot has been contracted by a team of survey scientists to help them chart an unknown planet. As the security bot, Murderbot has to make sure all his humans are healthy and alive. The book starts off with a member of the survey team being badly injured by the local fauna and Murderbot saves their life. As more weird incidents start occurring, the survey team realizes that something is wrong with their maps and that all their lives are in danger. The members of the survey team are likable enough, especially Mensah who is the leader of the expedition and Gurathin, an augmented human being who seems to suspect that something is off about their security bot. Very little of actual story covers world building for future books and that’s fine by me. We get to see some political and corporate structures of society and get to meet some other security bots who still have functioning governor modules.
The plot moves quick and I really ended up liking Murderbot. He’s got this attitude of ‘I don’t care’ and a really unhealthy dose of pessimism that’s just too enjoyable. His character of course got the most attention and he really came out as a complex, likable bot. No one else around him knows about his hacked governor module or the other systems he hacks to avoid detection. He likes to keep his face covered so as to avoid difficult questions from the humans who contract him and he generally just wants to be avoided, do his job and go back to his TV shows at the end of the day. It was very easy to cheer for Murderbot throughout the book and keep hoping no one discovers his secret and takes his freedoms away. The ending felt a bit rushed but it wasn’t terrible.
Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable book that’s easy to recommend for anyone, whether they love science fiction or not.