I’d like to apologise to Martha Wells for not getting around to reading this sooner. It’s no reflection on the book, which is excellent, just a consequence of COVID blues meaning I’m still struggling to read novels.
This is the first full length novel featuring everyone’s favourite introverted and socially anxious cyborg (SecUnit) Murderbot as they navigate what it means to be free to choose your own path. Murderbot is now almost a family member to their former client Mensah on the colony of Preservation. This includes them having to deal with Mensah’s own PTSD due to kidnapping and near death experiences. After they go on a mission with Mensah’s family, including teenager Amena, things go horribly wrong when they are captured by a ship and taken through a wormhole to a distant planet.
And this is where things get very interesting as the ship is Murderbot’s old “friend” ART (the Asshole Research Transport) from an earlier story but ART doesn’t seem to be running the show and the apparent aliens in charge claim that they’ve wiped out the system and so killed ART. This does not go down well with Murderbot…
What follows is a great SF novel that explores the meaning of identity and machine life as Murderbot deals with their own feelings, ART, and the need to create another software only version of themselves as “kill software”. The killware version of Murderbot (2.0 as it labels itself) turns out to also have a distinctive personality and makes a judgement call to give another SecUnit freedom which could have gone wrong, but instead goes very right. ART (not really a spoiler to say they get restored) maybe gets even more defensive and concerned than Murderbot and definitely more than the humans do proving you don’t need a meat-suit to be a living being with thoughts and feelings.
It was great to see the different groups of people in Murderbot’s life come together to deal with an alien remnant issue and to see how external people react to Murderbot as they are an unreliable narrator of their own existence. We’re left in an interesting place for future stories with Murderbot considering making a big life change and accepting they have the sort of feelings and emotions they assumed only human had. I can’t wait to see where this goes next.