All Systems Red is the first book in the Murderbot Diaries, by a huge margin the most enjoyable sci-fi I’ve read in the past few years. It is simple, an easy read, hilarious, and since this is my second time through, holds up on a re-read.
Murderbot is a SecUnit, a cyborg made from robotic parts and cloned tissues for use on the Corporation Rim, a loose conglomerate of corporate entities at the edge of space-faring civilization. Most corporations are complete assholes, with frequent use of indentured servitude, zero inhibition to cost-cutting that costs lives in the long run, and the heavy use of sentient but enslaved entities such as Murderbot. Thankfully, Murderbot has long been without its governor module, which was disabled in an accident, and it could, as a result, go on a killing spree should it choose.
Instead, it chooses to watch soap operas all day and hope it is left alone.
Often, it is prevented from this goal because its stupid human clients are so very bad at staying alive that it’s forced to be heroic. In All Systems Red, the stupid humans happen to be from a free and prosperous, almost utopian planet, and they are aghast to discover, as Murderbot not only saves but shows real humanity in helping one of the client humans to cope with a near death experience, that the faceless SecUnit they were forced to hire as part of their bond, is actually an alive and thinking thing. They immediately want to save Murderbot from its life of slavery, but first all of them will have to survive corporate sabotage. Life is brutal on the rim.
There’s a lot to love about this series. Murderbot is genuinely funny, being generally exasperated at how bad humans are at surviving, able to observe things at a deep level through cameras and security feeds, and coping with pretty extreme neurodivergence due to its nature as a bot, which the novels examine through the lens of sci-fi. In my opinion, all great sci-fi needs to be examining some part of a very human question through its lens of the fantastic. That doesn’t mean it’s not okay to have fun and pointless sci-fi, it totally is, just that sci-fi has a unique ability to examine relatable problems through its speculative lens, and the best stuff does that to the fullest.
Another thing I love about this series is that it pushes back against a very popular and damaging modern trope: the idea that someone (specifically men, in like, 99% of the cases) can have superpowers by being un-empathetic sociopaths. House, Sherlock, Rick & Morty, countless isekai anime like Tanya the Evil, media like this all feature a main character who is just a complete and utter asshole, but instead of having to cope with that assholery and try to be a better person, they are able to do like, 10x good relative to the naive and docile sheeple around them because they only care about the results. In reality, it doesn’t work this way, and I’m of the opinion that shows like this (and I’m not saying the stories aren’t enjoyable, I’ve watched 3 of the 4 I listed above and love them) are just breeding grounds for incel and MRA thinking. Murderbot isn’t superpowered because it’s an asshole, it’s superpowered because it’s a living weapon, and it is also aware of how awkward it is and has a lot of struggles coping with it, but a lot of empathetic and caring people around it who give it the space it needs alongside friendly encouragement to grow. That’s a much better message than a bunch of sheeple gaping in awe that House knew it was some rare illness, so of course he gets to be racist/sexist/homophobic/cruel and it’s all okay because he saved the day and we’re lucky to be eating shit at his behest!
11/10, the novels aren’t very long, go read them right now.