Note: This is a spoiler-free review for Network Effect and System Collapse. If you’ve read Network Effect dive into both reviews! However, if you haven’t read Network Effect do not continue on to the review of System Collapse. In order to discuss System Collapse I need to include information that is learned in Network Effect (which is kind of spoiler-ish if you haven’t read it yet). If you have not read Network Effect yet, please enjoy its review. When you’re finished come back for my review of System Collapse!
I gave my spouse System Collapse in our family Winter Solstice book exchange. He read it and commented that I should probably re-read the book before it. In publishing order, that would be Fugitive Telemetry. A quick re-read later (I stand by my original review and have nothing new to say) and I discovered that Network Effect was what I should have read. Fortunately, re-reading Murderbot is a pleasure and not a chore. After finishing Network Effect, I went to find my review to see how the current read matched up with my original feelings. To my surprise, I can’t find it. Google and Cannonball Read searches have both failed me. So here is my review of Network Effect, followed with System Collapse because, ideally, these two should be read back to back (both are 5 star reads).
Network Effect (which could be subtitled “In Which Murderbot and ART come to realize the depth of their ‘feelings’ for each other”) starts off with a bang and barely lets off the gas the whole way through. Several members of the Preservation Society, including Dr. Mensah’s daughter, Amena, are going on a research mission. One of Dr. Mensah’s stipulations of their going was that Murderbot go along as security. With only a minor hiccup on the away planet the group has popped back through a wormhole and are beginning to approach Preservation Station. This is when everything goes sideways. An initially unknown ship is attacking, it uses a tractor beam to suck up Murderbot and Amena, and then whisks away through a new wormhole.
Murderbot quickly realizes the ship is none other than ART but something is drastically wrong. Murderbot can’t connect with ART, its crew is gone, and there are strangely behaving, grey-skinned humans (Targets) aboard controlling the ship, as well as two corporate humans from Barish-Estranza. When the Targets boast of wiping out the ship’s AI, Murderbot goes through a complex series of emotions it hasn’t felt before. The first half of the book is Murderbot and Amena trying to survive and figure out what happened. The second half introduces us to an alien-remnant contaminated planet and a rescue mission.
Network Effect takes a tremendous toll on Murderbot. Emotionally and physically traumatized on a level that it has not experienced before. It also gets physically threatened in new and not exciting ways (planets are the worst). These leave it in a state we’ve not seen Murderbot in before now.
SPOILERS Ahead: Stop reading if you haven’t read Network Effect
System Collapse picks up immediately in the aftermath of Network Effect. Preservation’s response ship has caught up with ART and now Murderbot’s humans are working with ART’s humans to help save the lost colony humans from signing themselves over to corporate indenture with Barish-Estranza. A fate Murderbot thinks is worse than death.
The beginning of Network Effect displays how well Muderbot has become integrated with Dr. Mensah and the Preservation team we’ve come to know and love. System Collapse builds upon that by having Murderbot combine with ART’s University humans. The University humans are used to constructs having abilities way beyond what are expected of them, due to living in and working with ART. Murderbot finds itself having a lot more humans to worry about and who worry about it.
As it deals with the traumatic events in Network Effect, Murderbot isn’t functioning at full operational parameters and is glitching in ways that are unheard of for constructed beings. However, it has a job to do, even if doing more planetary exploring is the last thing it wants to do. Along the way Murderbot contemplates Murderbot 2.0’s actions, giving its personally curated files and the code to hack the governor module to Three. What responsibility, if any, does Murderbot have to future SecUnits?
System Collapse is a fantastic follow up to Network Effect. The solution to the colonist problem is brilliant. I particularly liked how Murderbot chews on the problem and works through the idea. How it builds on so many of its experiences to create something special. I love the way Iris, ART’s favorite human, fully embraces and accepts Murderbot so quickly. It’s touching to see how everyone tries to support Murderbot through this challenging time for it. I especially liked the last line of the book and the nod to future Murderbot adventures.