Oh Murderbot, how I love you! I think I may have started all my reviews for the Murderbot novellas this exact same way but that just goes to show how wonderful these books are. It’s rare that a sci-fi story with a bot protagonist is so moving, funny, and exciting all at the same time. But Martha Wells hasn’t shown any signs of slacking off or losing steam. Murderbot is as great as ever, if not better!
by Martha Wells
Published: Tor.com, 2020
eBook: 352 pages
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #5
My rating: 8.5/10
Opening line: I’ve had clients who thought they needed an absurd level of security. (And I’m talking absurd even by my standards, and my code was developed by a bond company known for intense xenophobic paranoia, tempered only by desperate greed.)
Murderbot returns in its highly-anticipated, first, full-length standalone novel.
You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you’re a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you’re Murderbot.
Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century.
I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90 plus percent of my problems are.
When Murderbot’s human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.
Drastic action it is, then.
Okay, okay. There’s a very low chance of me staying in any way coherent in this review because when I think of Murderbot, my brain is this massive jumble of emotions and memories of cool moments from the series. And that’s exactly what makes The Murderbot Diaries so great. Our mostly robotic protagonist Murderbot is going on another adventure, mostly through no fault of its own, and has to juggle things like saving its humans from certain death, dealing with those pesky emotions that keep creeping up on it, learning more about its own identity, and of course killing enemy drones, infiltrating enemy computer systems, and handling an adolescent girl, all at once. But Murderbot is cool, Murderbot muddles through, and Murderbot has way more heart than it lets on.
So, what’s the story of this first full-sized Murderbot novel? Murderbot and some of Dr. Mensah’s family and friends go on a pretty regular mission looking at some planet for research reasons – I’m not trying to make it sound boring, it’s just that it really doesn’t matter what Murderbot does, as long as it brings its unique Murderbot-ness to the story. Seriously, I’d gladly read about Murderbot going shopping. Because you know with Murderbot, nothing ever stays standard, let alone boring. On their way back, the group’s ship is attacked and they end up – barely surviving – on a different transport ship. One that is oddly familiar to Murderbot and will be just as familiar to readers of the series.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you what I’ve seen mentioned in many synopses or short descriptions of this book: and that is the return of ART, everyone’s favorite Asshole Research Transport. Ever since Murderbot met ART in the second novella, I’ve been hoping for a reunion. Let’s just say it doesn’t turn out the way I had hoped but there is a reunion… which, of course, comes with a new mission. One that leads Murderbot, ART, and all their humans into pretty serious danger. Secrets need to be uncovered and Murderbot has its hands full. It’s not only that danger lurks around every corner, humans behave in supid ways (even the smarter humans who accompany Murderbot), but it’s also those damn emotions!
The plot is exciting and thrilling and takes you deeper and deeper into a whole new place with new characters, but I don’t want to tell you much more about it. Not because there is huge potential for spoilers but because the plot isn’t all that important when you’ve got Murderbot narrating. If you’re thinking about picking up Network Effect, chances are high you’ve read the four previous novellas in the series and are already as much in love with Murderbot as I am. If you haven’t – worry not, you can actually jump into the story here. There are several references to events that happened previously but if you decide to read the novel first and then pick up the novellas as a sort of prequel, that’s totally possible. You don’t absolutely need to know what happened before to understand this story. It’s self-contained, all the characters are introduced and the driving force behind the plot is something new as well.
So. Now for the part where I hope not to turn into a sobbing mess. Murderbot is a killer bot and it’s not a fan of the emotions it keeps having involuntarily. And that’s exactly what makes it so appealing as a character. Murderbot’s social awkwardness isn’t as present as it used to be – one could almost say Murderbot has grown as a person and is much more confident now when dealing with humans – but it’s still Murderbot. It gets annoyed at our irrational behavior, at how fragile our bodies are, and how often humans shot it accidentally (okay, sometimes on purpose). Murderbot’s narration is both touching and hilarious. It makes great observations of human nature but it never forgets to add its personal touch. I assume there are people out there (maybe two or three) who don’t enjoy this kind of narration, but if you like it at all you will love it dearly.
Add to Murderbot’s already funny voice the fact that it is confronted with the closest thing one could call a friend. ART and Murderbot may not have spent much time together previously but they definitely left a mark. Seeing how they come together again, in a very difficult situation involving murderous drones and dangerous software, was pure joy! And that goes for the whole book really. The action scenes are fantastic, again, because Murderbot assesses situations in such a cold manner but at the same time doesn’t want to get killed (again), the quieter moments are beautiful. I adored Murderbot’s interactions with Amena, Dr. Mensah’s teenaged daughter, and I especially loved how the story ended.
Murderbot is still finding its place in the world. It has found some humans that it likes (and who like it back) and it’s slowly learning that not everybody sees it as a machine, that it can, in fact, be a person! And people usually have a family or friends or simply other people who look out for each other. I spent most of the time reading this novel with a big fat smile on my face but by the end, there were definitely tears. Just a few. About as many as Murderbot might have shed if it let itself…
MY RATING: 8.5/10 – Excellent!