It has been almost three years since I last ventured into the land of Murderbot (January 2019) and while I had to wait like everyone else for Network Effect to publish, I also put it off a little while, over a year in fact. I blame Pandemic brain. Because the minute I picked this one up, I was back with Murderbot and it felt like almost no time at all since I last visited this part of fictional space. Murderbot is still working out this whole “person” thing, and continues to hate humans looking at it and seeing the details of its personhood and not just the shell of a SecUnit but it is getting better (more comfortable? More accepting?) at figuring out how to communicate with its humans for the best result for everyone. Usually. Although it becomes deeply uncomfortable, awkward, and anxious just as easily as it did back in book one, All Systems Red. Wells has an incredibly strong authorial voice, put to great use with Murderbot, which becomes even more evident late in the book and no, I won’t be elaborating on that at this time.
This story continues Wells’ unpacking the nature of relationships and our humanity. Murderbot is actively telling us the story and since Murderbot is self-referential and sarcastic it keeps the narrative moving at a brisk pace. We meet ART again (I still love it very much) and Dr. Mensah, her family, and her team are also here. Dr. Mensah continues to bring out the person in Murderbot in a way no other character does, with the exception possibly of her daughter Amena, as the story progresses. In broadest strokes the plot of this one is that Murderbot’s human associates (not friends, let’s not be crazy here. Well except maybe Ratthi.) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action. So drastic action it is, then.
Murderbot still has to act within a system that would dismantle it, if its autonomy were known. That trapped feeling of the mix of trauma, depression, and anxiety all at odds with a desire for understanding and true independence makes Murderbot an incredibly compelling character, and that’s before we get into the never-ending job of keeping its humans alive. My only real complaint is that it felt like this book took a long time to get really going. The first hundred pages (of 350) are really setting up the story, and include some flashforwards (flashbacks? The HelpMe.file excerpts are hard to describe) that are not explained until much later. But even through that there is a lot of action happening (and a lot of emotions) (Even Murderbot will agree to that). Because – and if I had read narfna’s review earlier I would have known this going in – Network Effect is also a romance. ART and Murderbot’s relationship goes through so many of the major plot points of romance, and I say this knowing full well that we’re talking about an asexual android and bodiless A.I. It’s a beautiful arc and the main reason I’m including this book in my Read Women Task 16: a book featuring a queer love story (and there’s a lot of other queer relationships running around in this book as well).
This story shows a lot of growth, both for Murderbot and those around it. I wondered about the title of the book when I got done, thinking I knew what it was after, and a quick search told me I was correct since the titular Network Effect is a phenomenon whereby a product or service gains additional value as more people use it. Sounds about right to me.
Bingo Square: Machinery