Another shoutout to Emmalita for the gift of these two books, the first in Martha Wells’ Murderbot series. The Murderbot Diaries have been reviewed often and glowingly here on CBR and my reviews will not be much different! I am loving this series and will absolutely be reading the rest. Murderbot is the name that the main character has given itself. It is a SecUnit, i.e., a security unit, that is a hybrid of robotic and human parts. SecUnits are equipment rented out to research parties and companies working in space. They are terrifying to most humans, as they are fully armored and capable of great violence, but they should be fine since they are all controlled by “governor” technology that prevents them from acting without strict orders and which requires them to provide all information that they gather to their parent company. Murderbot, however, has figured out how to detach itself from the governor; this could be terrifying as it could go out on a murderous rampage versus humans, but it turns out all it wants to do is download movies, books and music. Murderbot continues to work as a normal SecUnit would, hiding its rogue status and just zoning out on TV shows while working.
For the most part, Murderbot (MB) manages its interactions with the humans who have hired it out without much trouble. Humans are often irrational and Murderbot finds their emotions a bit much to handle, but as long as it keeps its mask down, it can hide the eye rolling and isolate itself from them. The problem is that MB has been hired by a research group that includes humans who want to get to know it, and Murderbot finds itself caring more about these people than it wants to. In All Systems Red, Murderbot’s clients find themselves on a planet that is also being researched by others, but when the other research party is found dead, Murderbot knows that its people are in danger. While the mystery of who has attacked the other party and why drives this particular story, it’s Murderbot’s evolving relationship with people that is especially interesting and entertaining.
At the end of All Systems Red and beginning of the second book, Artificial Condition, Murderbot has become something of a hero, and the leader of the research team from book one has purchased Murderbot from its parent company. The researchers know that Murderbot is a rogue, but they trust it and want it to be “free.” The problem is that while hybrids can be freed, they still require a guardian, and Murderbot has something it needs to do on its own. We learned in book one that Murderbot was involved in the massacre of a bunch of humans on a mining planet many years ago. MB cannot remember the details since its parent company wiped its memory and essentially rebooted it after the event. But Murderbot wants to return to that planet and figure out what happened, and so in Artificial Condition, Murderbot runs away from its guardian and hitches a ride on a research transport. The ship itself is intelligent and able to communicate with other bots and hybrids, so Murderbot makes a deal to stow away on the ship in exchange for sharing its entertainment downloads with the ship. What MB discovers though is that the ship, which MB dubs ART (asshole research transport), knows MB is rogue and is super nosy about MB’s business. They become a sort of odd couple, with ART insisting on watching TV shows over MB’s shoulder instead of on its own and offering advice and help for the mission to the mining planet. Their interactions are a lot of fun to read, especially when they annoy each other, which is pretty much all of the time.
In order to be able to pass without being noticed on the mining planet, Murderbot decides that it will have to do two things. One is surgically change its appearance to be more human. This is not a decision MB makes lightly, as it knows this requires it to discard its armor and interact with humans in a more “normal” way. The other thing MB needs to do is have an official reason to be on the planet, and so it becomes a freelance security consultant. MB is hired by a small group of researchers whose work has been stolen by their boss. They are desperate to get it back and Murderbot, even though it knows this is most likely a trap, agrees to accompany them to the planet and try to get their files back. While there MB also tries to get into the mines and access the information systems to find clues as to what happened in the past to cause it to massacre humans.
Both of these stories are short (around 150 pages) and action packed. They also contain a lot of dry snarky humor, which I love. Murderbot does not get complete answers to its questions in either story, and it seems that the murder of researchers in book 1 and theft of information in book 2, as well as the mine massacre, are part of a bigger story of intrigue. I hope that means that the characters introduced in these two books will be back again later, especially ART. I can understand why The Murderbot Diaries are so popular and have won so much acclaim.