All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Series: The Murderbot Diaries
Genres: Science-Fiction, Novella
Maturity Level: 4-
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In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.
What an enchanting read! All Systems Red was a perfect blend of sci-fi adventure with hard science fiction, all packed into a quick, light novella. It was funny, sweet, moderately thought-provoking, and entertaining as heck.
The most obvious appeal of this novella is the main character, murderbot. He is an android with organic parts who has gained consciousness and hacked his programming. But instead of becoming a mass murderer, he just wants to binge millions of hours of TV. As a result of his recent consciousness, he has social anxiety around humans and just wants to be left alone. Murderbot is the primary driver of humor in this novel, and his narration is cheeky and satirical. But you can’t help falling in love with it and getting more than a little sentimental.
In light of Muderbot’s charm, I feel that the plot of this novella has been underrated. But I’m here to tell you that it’s a highly entertaining action/mystery. The pace was quick and breezy, but allowed time for character development and some nice science fiction ethical questioning. While not designed to be particularly shocking or surprising, the plot nonetheless kept me on my toes. Even without Murderbot’s amazing voice, this little book would have been a ton of fun.
Short as it was, I don’t have much more to say. I’ll wrap up by saying that there’s a reason All Systems Red won Hugo, Nebula, and Locus, in addition to be nominated by all the other major awards. Definitely a must-read.