Oh, hello, blurb that barely scratches the surface of this book. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting in to with this book, but it was exactly what I needed right now. At its heart, it’s a book about found family, about finding the people who love you even when you mess up, who love you for who you are and not what you can do for them.
“It had a job to do. It wanted to do its job. It wanted to pilot the boat, defeat the aliens, earn its handler’s praise, and then live out the rest of its activation period in whatever state of being was exactly the opposite of this go go go go.
It had been awake for less than fifteen minutes and already it longed to rest.”
Autonomous Maintenance System Unit 4 is not having a good day. Freshly reconstituted during an attack on the mining platform around Jupiter that it calls home, Unit 4 is immediately sent off to fight the aliens that are dismantling pieces of the station. Something isn’t right, with Unit 4 or the aliens, but it sets off on its suicide mission anyway. After all, it’s a robot designed to do its job, so it’ll do the best job it can. But this attack – and its aftermath – have more ramifications than Unit 4 can possibly have imagined. Angry and confused, will Unit 4 take the chance to become more than it was intended to be?
“But what’s happening here, between all of us, could change everything. I know it could.”
This is one of those books it’s hard to talk about without getting into spoilers. The plot twists are interesting, and in at least one case for me, highly unexpected. While you’re thrown right into the middle of the action, the beginning is a bit slow but quickly accelerates once the reader understands exactly what’s at stake – even if Unit 4 doesn’t. While there’s a decent amount of action, the heart of the story is the characters and the relationships they build, especially Unit 4’s.
“Why look after the soul of a thing if you’ve trained it to believe it has no soul?”
The blurb specifically compares this to Murderbot, which I can see on a surface level. There’s the focus on found family, but the tone is very different from Murderbot’s sarcasm and cynicism. Unit 4, instead, spends much of the book confused and frightened. There are so many lines in the book that start with “It didn’t know what to do” and, wow, after this past year, I empathized so much with that. One of Unit 4’s first actions after being reconstituted is “decommissioning” one of its counterparts when it’s injured, complete with a wash of feelings that it doesn’t understand. From that moment on I spent a good chunk of the book just wanting to wrap it in a warm blanket and give it a hug. All Unit 4 wants to do is complete the job it’s been programmed to do and its slow awakening to the realities of what that job entails, of its purpose, were both intensely heartbreaking and heartwarming.
Much like Unit 4, the reader slowly gets the feeling that something isn’t quite right, and then gets hit with the horrifying clue-stick long before the character does. A good part of the emotional weight of the book is anticipating how Unit 4 will react to those revelations – and how the characters around Unit 4 will react to it. Speaking of those characters, it’s casually queer (space is gay, folks), with characters with nonbinary pronouns, a m/m couple and an intersex person. There’s a sweet romantic element, too, just delightfully gentle in the way it was woven in.
Overall, an easy 4.5 stars, and definitely a book I’ll be recommending. While the main plot is wrapped up neatly, I’m hoping for a sequel as this is definitely a universe I’d like to explore more of!