[Read as an audiobook from the public library]
This is a little frustrating, because I really wanted all this to end on a high note. I wanted to like Network Effect at least as much as Artificial Condition, since ART was back. But that just didn’t happen and it kind of bummed me out. That’s certainly not to say I didn’t have a good time or I didn’t enjoy this book, because I absolutely did.
So in this feature-length installment, Murderbot finds itself kidnapped by the transport formerly (and eventually again) known as ART as part of a fairly convoluted plot by an alien intelligence trying to use it (Murderbot) as a weapon. It’s kind of confusing and hard to keep track of exactly what the alien intelligence is actually trying to do versus what he infected colonists are doing versus what ART is using all of them for. Anyway, Murderbot does its usual Murderbot things, humanoid and bot ass is kicked physically and virtually (the hacking scene was pretty cool), and everything pretty much ends okay.
I think the longer format didn’t serve this narrative as well as it might have. Where Murderbot’s internal grousing and existential angst is usually charming in three-hour sections, spread out over 13 hours it just becomes trying and navel gazey. Murderbot’s constant sniping with ART, which was adorable in Artificial Condition, wore on me to the point of irritation. Where normally I feel like Murderbot has grown a bit by the end of the story, this time I felt like it kept moving forward and regressing and moving forward again. This felt much less like a function of Murderbot’s character and more like filler, which was frustrating.
However, as always, there were standouts. Dr. Mensah’s daughter Amena, while at first the sort of adolescent who gets on my last nerve (I have mentioned I identify strongly with Murderbot, yes?) was a favorite by the end. Murderbot 2.0, Murderbot’s cloned killware self (it’s a long story) was in some ways kind of a shortcut past all the annoyances Murderbot 1.0 was putting me through near the end. And SecUnit 3, a corporate SecUnit who is eventually freed from its governor module, is a window to what Murderbot must have originally been like before all the snark and swearing and cynicism and is just absolutely — darling is definitely the wrong word but I just loved it terribly.
So definitely still very enjoyable, still very much liked. I just would have trimmed quite a bit of the repetitive stuff out and cut back on the arguing after it got stale, because really, that was the heart of Artificial Condition and it made me sad that I was so sick of it so quickly in this story. The story with the alien remnant was also super confusing and I still have very little idea what was happening there, so that could have used more attention than the 25th iteration of Murderbot and ART are fighting because they can’t acknowledge whatever their relationship is because they’re machines and what even are we trying to do here with that. Just my take.
Fugitive Telemetry was released just as I was finishing this. The library tells me the audiobook has about a six-week wait, and I’ve come this far with Kevin Free so it would be weird to abandon the format now. I’m weirdly happy to see it’s back to the shorter format — the blurb tells me it’s set between Exit Strategy and Network Effect, and judging from Murderbot’s internal files it gave to SecUnit 3, quite a bit of shit went down in that time so that sounds promising. I really like Murderbot’s interactions with Dr. Mensah and I hope to see more of her because she seems really cool. She reminds me a bit of my memories of Chrisjen Avasarala in The Expanse series (but it’s been ages since I read the first few of those and that may be as much the way Kevin Free voices her as anything).