Title: All Systems Red
Author: Martha Wells
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1
Publisher/Copyright: TOR, 2017
Meet Murderbot. Nobody else calls it that, of course – to most of the stupid humans it has to interact with, it’s just the security unit that the company made them bring along as part of the contract to safeguard the investment. But whereas most SecUnits are slaves to the central AI running whatever shoddy equipment the company sent along, Murderbot (as it thinks of itself) has hacked its own governor unit and can ignore whatever orders it wants, freeing it to stand around listlessly guarding stupid humans from dangers that are mostly non-existant as long as nobody does anything too moronic, devoting most of its energy to watching the terrabytes of serials that it downloaded from the entertainment feed last time they made contact. When things start to go wrong, initially it seems like just business as usual – life is cheap, and the contract for this equipment all went to the lowest bidder. But as incidents start to pile up, even Murderbot has to admit someone is trying to kill its humans. Even worse? Murderbot seems to have accidentally started to care about them…. Crap. It’s going to have to actually put in some effort this time around, isn’t it?
To put it simply, this is the best book I’ve read in quite a while. The entire thing is narrated by the extremely sarcastic, introverted, and misanthropic Murderbot, which makes for maybe the most engaging narrator since Harry Dresden. Don’t believe me? Read the first several pages here. You know that thing with Charles Dickens where everything would be terribly depressing without his tongue-in-cheek style to bring the humor, rendering it impossible to abridge? No? I’m the only one to notice that? Oh well, moving on. This is like that – a dystopian wasteland of a society that is expanding across the cosmos using crappy low-budget equipment that’s liable to stop working on you when you most need it – to the point where it takes multiple incidents before the protagonists conclude that this isn’t business as usual. There’s also the moral ambiguity of the slavery-in-all-but-name of the Constructs that form the backbone of the labor force – sentient, at least without the governor unit, but forced to follow every whim of the humans they’re assigned to, even if those humans get bored and force them into gladiatorial combat or some such. These Constructs are described as androids, but are more accurately clone-based cyborgs fitted out for whatever task they’ll be doomed to for their term of service; part mechanical hardware, part expendable and easily-regrown meat, genderless and sexless unless designated for….that. And Murderbot? Murderbot just wants to be left alone, yet is a surprisingly deep and compelling character with a tragic backstory and motivations that are deceptively noble given its internal dialogue. Even its self-given name deserves a second look by the end of the book. I cannot recommend this book enough. And it’s a short read, clocking in at right about a hundred and fifty pages, technically more of a novella than a full-fledged novel. Now I just have to wait for whoever has the second book checked out from the library to give it back….
CONTENT: Some violence, not too gruesomely described. Some sexual references, including offhand mentions that some of the characters are in relationships that would be far outside the norm today (one character is said to have three romantic partners waiting together at home for them, for example). Murderbot also makes disparaging references to pleasurebots, but nothing explicit. Occasional R-rated profanity, but not too gratuitous.