The Murderbot Diaries is a sequence of 4 novella length works with an overarching storyline consisting of a voyage of discovery for, well, a Murderbot. They are a cyborg security unit who at some point in their past was involved in an incident resulting in 57 deaths. As a consequence of this event they’ve overridden their programming and disabled external control so that they are now autonomous and cannot be reprogrammed or have their memory wiped. Of course, that’s not known to the company who owns them and rents them out as security to expeditions, and that’s the way Murderbot likes it!
In the first book All Systems Red is working on a planet for a scientific expedition. When the expedition is attacked even though no life is reported on the planet it becomes apparent there’s more going on. We are introduced to our larger-scope villains – an evil conglomerate called GrayCris who are after alien tech and had hoped to wipe out the expedition covertly. Thanks to Murderbot’s desire to protect people it cares about that fails badly (and Murderbot does care even if they struggle to show this and don’t cope well with people). The survey team Murderbot is with become a family for Murderbot, particularly the lead researcher Mensah, and that carries on through these books
The next novella Artificial Condition sees Murderbot masquerading as a human to find out more about the incident in which people were killed. For me, the highlight of this book was the introduction of ART (the Asshole Research Transport). ART is an intelligent ship who accepted transporting Murderbot for the company and chance to watch some soap operas. After some teething troubles ART helps Murderbot to appear more human and provides support when things inevitably go wrong.
In Rogue Protocol Murderbot decides to covertly help his “friends” from the first book who are in a legal battle with GrayCris. They do this by heading to a terraforming facility abandoned by GrayCris in the hopes of finding more evidence that they are illegally obtaining alien tech. Murderbot befriends a robot called Miki who is working for a research team on the station and once again things go sideways and violence is needed to resolve the conflict. Miki here provided a good example for Murderbot of how a human and robot could be friends as he had a close friendship with the lead researcher. This makes Murderbot think of his friends and he resolves to get the evidence he has to Mensah personally.
Murderbot’s actions have attracted the attention of GrayCris and this comes to a head in Exit Strategy when Murderbot finds that they are holding Mensah hostage and are after Murderbot with lots of weaponry. A plot is hatched and works fairly well, until it doesn’t and Murderbot becomes very angry that they’re trying to hurt its people. Eventually an escape is made during which Murderbot is critically injured but helped to recover by Mensah’s colony Preservation. We finish on an open note with Murderbot being offered the opportunity to do what it wants, even if that’s just to relax and watch TV.
I loved this series – Murderbot is such an engaging character. They appear human enough apart from concealed weaponry and in a way that causes them problems because people expect them to behave like a human. In reality they struggle to cope with being around people having massive social anxiety (at one point people being nice to them freaked them out enough that they had to go and stand in a corner for a while!). But they are more “human” than they give themselves credit for, at many points they do things that are really risky and put themselves at risk in order to save people. And I think that journey of self discovery is really engaging in what is a hard science fiction story.
The books are novella length and some people think that means they are overpriced but the value is not in length but quality and I was happy to pay for these works. Really looking forward to the first full novel though next year.