The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells
Genre: Science fiction
Overall series rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This series of reviews may contain spoilers for previous books, so be sure you don’t read ahead!
Oh, Murderbot — everyone’s favourite anti-social, anxiety-riddled killing machine. I recently completed the entire Murderbot Diaries novellas in anticipation of the release of the first full-length novel, Network Effect, in June. Today I’m offering you mini reviews of each novella, as well as some thoughts on the series overall.
All Systems Red
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.
This was actually a reread for me — I picked up All Systems Red back in 2018 and was not sold on it. I think trying this a second time did me a lot of good, as I had a better idea of what to expect going in. Everyone talks about how funny and relatable Murderbot is, but they don’t often talk about the fact that this is very much a serious, hard sci-fi series. Having my mindset adjusted, I was able to enjoy this book so much more.
This novella contains a huge amount of set-up, to the point that I think it’s best to read them all back-to-back. I can see readers coming out of All Systems Red a little unsatisfied with the world building (which gets stronger as later books add more context and detail) and the secondary characters (what human can stand out next to Murderbot? I mean, come on). However, it does a great job of introducing you to the SecUnit systems and the way of life in the future.
All Systems Red feels a lot like the first part of a longer book, which left me feeling a little unsatisfied. Fortunately, I had the second book on hand to read right away.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
It has a dark past – one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more.
Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the “A” stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue.
What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…
Artificial Condition is my favourite of the series. In this book, we get the expanded world building and much more solid and purposeful plot that I craved the first time I read All System Red. Murderbot has an interesting mission and is forced to learn on the fly and because of that, the story is much more self-contained and interesting.
Artificial Condition also introduces us to the absolute best aspect of these books (aside from our lovely main character) — the other bots that Murderbot interacts with. We are graced with my absolute favourite secondary character in the series: ART, also known as Asshole Research Transport. Murderbot’s interactions with ART are just fantastic and hilarious — they’re able to connect and understand each other on a level that isn’t achieved with Murderbot’s human interactions.
This book is an absolute delight, and I can see myself reading it over and over again.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
SciFi’s favorite antisocial A.I. is again on a mission. The case against the too-big-to-fail GrayCris Corporation is floundering, and more importantly, authorities are beginning to ask more questions about where Dr. Mensah’s SecUnit is.
And Murderbot would rather those questions went away. For good.
Rogue Protocol is a close second favourite in the series for very similar reasons — it feels like a self-contained story and has excellent secondary characters. Murderbot dives deeper into the conflicts of the first book and is on a mission to recover data from a dead station. Apparently I just love watching Murderbot go on missions, waffle their way through human interaction, and uncover more of their own pesky human emotions. I found this book to be immensely satisfying and enjoyable!
Like Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol has a wonderful bot that Murderbot must interact with –a bot who is basically the exact opposite of ART and makes Murderbot exceedingly uncomfortable. Throughout the book, Murderbot learns uncomfortable truths through Miki and their human companions. This is one of the most impactful relationships in the series and I absolutely loved it.
Rogue Protocol is the only Murderbot book to make me cry. Take from that what you will.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Murderbot wasn’t programmed to care. So, its decision to help the only human who ever showed it respect must be a system glitch, right?
Having traveled the width of the galaxy to unearth details of its own murderous transgressions, as well as those of the GrayCris Corporation, Murderbot is heading home to help Dr. Mensah—its former owner (protector? friend?)—submit evidence that could prevent GrayCris from destroying more colonists in its never-ending quest for profit.
But who’s going to believe a SecUnit gone rogue?
And what will become of it when it’s caught?
Sadly, Exit Strategy was my least favourite of the series. Why? I’m not entirely sure! I think what it comes down to is my preference for Murderbot’s solo adventures and the other bot characters — I just don’t care too much for the humans. I didn’t feel like we got to know them well enough in All Systems Red, therefore I just didn’t care much about them by the time two other books had past and they suddenly appear again. I also didn’t feel like the ending was satisfying, especially for what is meant to be the end of a series. I don’t mind an open-ended ending, however this one didn’t feel like any kind of conclusion at all.
Maybe by the time Exit Strategy came around, some of the shine had worn off a little for me and the charm of the second and third books just wasn’t present. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, however it is easily the weakest one for me.
I really enjoyed The Murderbot Diaries, however I think the main reason for that is Murderbot themselves — I didn’t find myself as drawn into the individual plots or human characters as I thought I would. There were some points left to be desired, especially Murderbot’s pre-All Systems Red history, and I would have loved to dive a little deeper into the tangential plot lines.
Murderbot will always remain a favourite character of mine — and I will read literally anything that features them — however, I think that the series is good rather than great. I’d highly recommend picking up this series for yourself, especially if you’re a reader who favours well-written characters over totally engaging plots.
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