Network Effect is the fifth entry in the Murderbot Diaries and unlike the previous four, which were each about 150 pages, this one goes for 300+. As usual, it’s packed with intrigue and cool fights. This might be my favorite Murderbot (so far) because it involves much of the crew from book 1 as well as Asshole Research Transport (ART) from book 2. The plot involves corporate planetary piracy and an old school malware attack, but it also focuses on Murderbot’s complicated and evolving relationships with its co-workers. I am tempted to tag this one as “romance” because, well, it sort of is. Murderbot would hate that.
Murderbot is working as security for old friend Dr. Mensah and her researchers from Preservation Station. Preservation, it should be noted, is not part of the “Corporation Rim.” In this world, most planets are run by corporate entities, which focus on profit over people. Preservation is one of the few non-corporate entities, and it tends to be much more liberal in its attitudes toward people, bots and hybrids. Individual rights supersede corporate rights. The problem is that Dr. Mensah, her crew and Murderbot have become targets of the corporate entity GrayCris due to exposing GrayCris’ illegal and murderous activities. Dr. Mensah has been the subject of kidnapping and assassination attempts, but MB always has her back. The relationship between MB and Mensah is a matter of concern for members of Mensah’s family, who do not understand what these two have been through together. Mensah’s brother-in-law Thiago and daughter Amena are on the research crew for which MB is providing security when all hell breaks loose.
A key part of the plot for Network Effect has to do with corporations finding and exploiting resources, particularly planets. Corporations want to find planets and found colonies in order to reap the profits from mining, farming or whatever. Some corporations invest in trying to find “lost” colonies, that is, colonies that had been established but somehow were lost over time. This usually happens when the corporate entity that owned a colony goes bankrupt or faces a hostile takeover. In such cases, colonies could face a disruption in their supply chain, leading to the death of the colony and of the people who lived there — some voluntarily, some as indentured servants. Preservation had been such a colony many generations ago and was on the verge of extinction when a ship arrived and saved the colonists, establishing a free community where the colonists governed themselves in place of a corporation.
Dr. Mensah, her researchers and the people of Preservation are disgusted by the actions of Corporate Rim entities, and they aren’t the only ones. When Murderbot and the Preservation team get sucked involuntarily through a wormhole, they get caught up in a complicated situation involving a lost colony, a corporate entity claiming rights to it, colonists who might be infected with a very dangerous alien mutation, and another research crew that has its own objectives. It’s through the latter group that Murderbot is reunited with ART, but the reunion leaves Murderbot half wrecked and furious. And furious Murderbot is the best, most hilarious and entertaining Murderbot. The relationship between ART and MB is my favorite part of the novel. To say it’s complicated is an understatement; they’re angry with each other, they don’t understand why the other one is being such a jerk, and the person who kind of helps them work through it is Mensah’s teenaged daughter Amena, who is pretty funny, too. The awkwardness of telling someone they matter to you and that you care about them is evident in pretty much all of MB’s relationships. It’s so much fun to watch MB figure out its feelings and how to talk to its humans.
The resolution to the wormhole/lost colony plot is pretty cool and brings in a new character who promises to be fun to get to know. I’m looking forward to the next book to see what happens with MB/ART and the whole corporation/colonies/alien remnants story.