I believe All systems red is a favourite around these parts. It was one of the reasons I picked it up to begin with. Which makes this a hard review to write, because I didn’t love it like a lot of you did. Spoilers ahoy.
Murderbot is a SecUnit, but it (she? he?) has hacked the governor module that’s supposed to, erm, govern it. So, as much as its current mission (to protect a group of people who are collecting data on another planet) will allow it, it spends its downtime watching the soaps and other series it has downloaded to its system. It is happy doing just that and a half-arsed job of everything else. It is not happy when it has to interact with humans. Humans are hard work and make it feel uncomfortable. Then something goes wrong and Murderbot discovers it’s not easy to not care.
This was a short, quick read at 150 pages. Murderbot is a sympathetic character, despite being a killing machine (probably because it kills to protect the humans it has started to like). The grouchiness is endearing. Martha Wells does a very good job creating an android Grinch and making us care what happens to it. There are moments of humour and tenderness. Despite the fact that it’s a short book, the main plot contained within is well fleshed out, in a compact, tight way.
Then why didn’t I love it?
I think at least part of the reason for me was the (a little bit too heavy) sci-fi jargon and the rules Wells made up for this world. If Hubsystem is down, internal comms still work. But sometimes they don’t? Sometimes you can say things to a crew member in private and sometimes not? Drones communicate with Murderbot but no one else can hear them? I am not saying the rules were inconsistent, I am saying that they were mentioned a lot as a way to move the plot forward so I tried to make sense of them. After a while I decided it didn’t matter if the rules made sense or not because it was too much work.
It took more effort than I was expecting from a relatively simple plot, is what I’m saying. I struggled to form a clear image of the planet, of their equipment, of the individual personalities of the crew members (perhaps the brevity of this book was the reason for this).
At the end of the day, this was a nice little book but it won’t be making a lasting impression. If I were to pick one thing to remember from it, it would be Murderbot catching feelings, and eventually dropping its armour. It was a nice metaphor for going through trauma, putting up walls to deal with it and then gradually healing.