Network Effect by Martha Wells
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Murderbot Diaries began their run in 2017, and I've been gobbling up every story and book in the series ever since. The cranky, irascible, anxious, and neurotic title character, a cyborg in a very unpleasant corporate space-faring future, is a character for the ages. This is Murderbot's first full-length novel, and naturally readers were still wondering if the character would be as appealing at a longer length. (Well, I wasn't, knowing the author's writing skills.)
I'm here to report that Murderbot is just as introverted, ill-tempered, standoffish, emotional and loyal as ever, and the extra length of this book adds to the characters and world in all the right ways.
The biggest plus of this book, aside from the exploration and growth of the title character, is the return of ART, the Murderbot-dubbed Asshole Research Transport of the second novella, Artificial Condition. ART helped Murderbot change its looks to appear more human (not that it wants to be human--as it would say, "Oh hell no!") and take its first tentative steps to freedom after its release from corporate slavery. ART explodes into this book with something of a bang (the first few chapters are fast-paced and fierce), kidnapping Murderbot to help save its crew, which has been imprisoned on a planet with an alien infestation. Murderbot's own humans, the core group it has sworn to protect, are dragged into this mess, and the last third of the novel is another fast-paced hodgepodge of fights, revelations and rescues. In between, the novel's middle section concentrates on characters. This section is slower-paced but utterly absorbing, because when you have characters as fascinating as Murderbot, ART and the rest, it's a delight to watch them interact.
This book is also funny. Murderbot's cranky remarks and tart observations had me laughing out loud. Even when it's killing things:
I was moving so fast that later I had to run my video back to analyze my performance. I shoved Target One away and smashed an elbow into Target Two's face. I tore the energy weapon out of Target Two's hand along with a few fingers, stabbed the weapon into its chest (it didn't have a sharp end but I made do) and ripped a large hole. Then I used the weapon, and the large hole, to lift Target Two up and slam it into the upper bulkhead. Three times. Fluid and pieces went everywhere.
That was satisfying. I think I'll do it again.
This combination of drollery and smart-assiness, leavened in the middle section by real emotion--Murderbot hates having emotions and is extremely reluctant to talk about them--gives the book, and the series as a whole, its unique voice. This is one reason I appreciated the slower middle section so much. The core relationship of this book, between Murderbot and ART, is examined and strengthened. In fact (although you don't dare say this in Murderbot's hearing) this is a bit of an AI love story. At the end, ART invites Murderbot to come along with it on its next mission, and Murderbot accepts. This is a welcome turn of events that opens up the world and characters, and creates hella anticipation for the next book.
I loved this. As long as Martha Wells can keep this voice and these characters going, I will snap up every Murderbot Diary she puts out.
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