August 7, 2017

Review: All Systems Red

All Systems Red All Systems Red by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was originally going to give this three stars, but I've been thinking about it ever since I read it. It's a book that sneaks up on you and lingers in the mind, and any book that does that deserves to be rewarded.

The best thing about this book is, of course, the character of Murderbot: a self-aware SecUnit (security android) who has hacked its own governor module and removed the strictures that define its existence as a corporate-owned property. (The extent to which Murderbot--a cranky, snarky misanthrope who just wants to avoid interacting with people, read its books watch its downloaded entertainment feeds and be left alone--can be compared to this reviewer is left as an exercise for the reader.) Unfortunately, the planetary exploration team that has hired it comes under sudden attack, and it's left to Murderbot and its clients to figure out who is trying to kill them and why.

(Yes, the term "it" applies here, as Murderbot is a sexless, genderless android. There's also a fascinating throwaway bit of backstory wherein Murderbot reveals its governor module failed before, resulting in the deaths of 57 people, and it hacked the replacement module to prevent this from ever happening again. I hope this is explored in subsequent volumes.)

The story is fairly pedestrian and quickly resolved, but it's Murderbot's voice that carries the day. Througout most of the book it doesn't know what it wants (other than the next episode of its favorite entertainment feed), but once the crisis is over and its contract has been bought out by the grateful humans whose lives it saved, it realizes that what it's supposed to want and what it actually does want are two different things.

I didn't know what I would do on a farm. Clean the house? That sounded way more boring than security. Maybe it would work out. This was what I was supposed to want. This what what everything had always told me I was supposed to want.

Supposed to want.

I'd have to pretend to be an augmented human, and that would be a strain. I'd have to change, make myself do things I didn't want to do. Like talk to humans like I was one of them. I'd have to leave the armor behind.

For anyone who ever watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, Murderbot is the anti-Data. It's the furthest thing from the Pinocchio who wants to be human, and because of that it is as unique character I will definitely follow. The book ends with Murderbot taking off with a cargo transport, to make its own way and chart its own destiny.

I don't know what I want. I said that at some point, I think. But it isn't that, it's that I don't want anyone to tell me what I want, or to make decisions for me.

This is a lovely story, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.

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