I read all the previous Murderbot stories at the beginning of CBR14 (reviews here, here and here), and while the details of those novels were perhaps a little fuzzy for me when I started this latest Murderbot, I was quickly up to speed and enjoying the continuing saga of everyone’s favorite misanthropic human-robot hybrid. As usual I zipped through this and loved it for its snarky humor and for its development of Murderbot’s relationships with the humans it works for and the artificial intelligence it seems to have a sort of romance with.
System Collapse actually picks up where Murderbot #5 (Network Effect) left off. The researchers from Preservation Colony (Murderbot’s people) and the representatives of the colonizing corporation that claim ownership of a contaminated planet (previously forgotten and abandoned) are both still on the planet and clearly wary of one another. The corporates want to maintain their hold on the planet (claiming ownership that is under dispute) and they want the colonists who reside there to stay as indentured servants. The folks from Preservation want the colonists to understand that they have a choice, that they can and should govern themselves or leave, and they are hoping to prove that the corporation no longer has any legal rights to the abandoned colony. The complicated matter gets even more complicated when some of the colonists tell the folks from Preservation that there is another settlement on the planet. Decades ago, a group of colonists left the main settlement to move to a remote area and live on their own. Their settlement maintains complete autonomy and does not allow outside contact; it is totally up to them to initiate contact if they want it. The existence of this independent colony could complicate Preservation’s legal action to free the planet from corporate interference, but only if the representatives of the corporation also know of its existence and get to those outliers first.
The excitement here is of course the race to find this outpost and win over the colonists to Preservation’s point of view. Frankly, it should be a no-brainer that colonists would choose not to be indentured servants, but Martha Wells includes some interesting and totally believable plot devices that show the reader how these folks could be fooled by propaganda and be won over by the corporates. What is even more interesting in this novel, in my opinion, is what is happening to Murderbot and how it might be linked to Murderbot’s past. Throughout the novels, Murderbot finds itself becoming more human in ways that it finds really annoying; it is feeling feelings and finds that this can interfere with its response time and ability to evaluate situations and act quickly. In the first part of the story, when Murderbot is reviewing events of the past, it constantly refers to some “redacted” event; the reader eventually learns what that event was and while the details are not all revealed in this novel, it seems to be a part of Murderbot’s mysterious past and the things it did before its memory was wiped and it freed itself from its governor module. I can’t wait to get the full story of what Murderbot did before freeing itself.
When I finished System Collapse, I was really impressed with the way Wells deals with the issue of free will, which is vital for both the colonists and for Murderbot and other AI and human hybrids. All of those groups are limited in their freedoms and could potentially become free actors. Corporate types want colonists indentured because it serves their bottom line; they don’t really care what happens to these people so long as work gets done and profits are made. AI and hybrids are generally feared by humans, especially SecUnits like Murderbot. The movement to recognize the rights of hybrids terrifies some people who foresee a world overrun with dangerous, unpredictable and powerful individuals who might not use power wisely. But couldn’t the same accusation be lobbed against humans, especially corporate types who rule over colonies? In this installment and in book #5, Murderbot finds itself in a position to offer the path to freedom (the same one it has taken) to other SecUnits, but what if they don’t use power as wisely as it has? What if they act like … people???
I love these books so much! I love the Murderbot character and ART, the artificial intelligence that oversees the Preservation ship and has been instrumental to Murderbot for several books now. Their relationship is as exciting to me as Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. I have seen that Apple TV is developing a Murderbot series with Alexander Skarsgard, and while I am excited I am also a little nervous. I will be angry if they screw this up. I imagined someone like Vico Ortiz – Joe from Our Flag Means Death – as Murderbot, so I’m already a little dubious. But no matter what happens with a TV series, there will always be the books, and I can’t wait for the next installment in this series.