Review: All Systems Red – The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

I’m late to the party for this tense, action filled novella. So far this is the only Martha Wells book I’ve read but I can see why her name keeps appearing among SF fans recommending books.

There is nothing particularly new or original here, just some classic SF tropes artfully combined and a story executed with a confident styles.

“Murderbot” is the secret name that an artificial security cyborg names itself. A mix of organic and mechanical components, Murderbot likes to keep their human face hidden both figuratively and literally. Despite the name (explained within the text), their main desire is some peace and quiet so they can catch up on episodes of their favourite drama “Sanctuary Moon”.

The property of a faceless planet owning corporation, Murderbot has been leased to provide security for a survey team scoping out the commercial potential of an alien planet. What neither the survey or the corporation realize is that Murderbot has hacked their own governance system and despite their impeccable behaviour is in reality a heavily armed rogue cyborg.

Despite some dark plots, murders and monstrous local fauna, this is a very compassionate story. Beyond Murderbot themselves, the individual characterisation isn’t deep but Wells quickly establishes a feel for what the team Murderbot is protecting is like. A mix of well meaning but wary people, the relationship between the survey team and Murderbot has a strong and plausible arc that gives the story some real soul.

Really very nicely done.

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24 comments

  1. Contrarius

    I haven’t read this one yet, but I’ll stick in a plug for her Raksura books. They are not perfect, but I enjoy her character work, and the stories and worldbuilding are mostly pretty fun and certainly not run of the mill.

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    • michaeleochaidh

      I finally broke down and read all of them this summer. I thought they were a blast.
      I carried a hard copy of All Systems Red in my luggage (the emergency backup book) on my trip this summer, but didn’t actually read it. Which is typical for me; Ancillary Justice toured quite a bit of Europe before I finally got around to reading it.

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  2. Mark Hepworth

    I think this novella is going to do very well for itself. The voice of the character comes through really strongly, there’s some good SF thought about AI and personhood, and the story works well. As you say, nothing strictly original in and of itself, but the combo is golden.

    Liked by 1 person

      • camestrosfelapton

        Just started River of Teeth – and a central character is from Blackpool! I was initially ‘wow, is there a Blackpool in the US?’ but it is the actual proper Blackpool – which is just one of the best places in the world and more people should be from Blackpool.

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      • Mark Hepworth

        Blackpool got discussed in our house this weekend (because Strictly was filming from Blackpool) and I realised that I’d never actually been there. Not once!
        My excuse is that I grew up on the Scarborough/Brid side of the country.

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      • camestrosfelapton

        That’s no excuse Mark! Scarborough has its charms and so does Bridlington but Blackpool is something else altogether! If there isn’t some sort of interdimensional rift in Blackpool then I’ll eat my hat.

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      • Cora

        Blackpool is weird, but awesome. Once you’ve been to a British seaside town, you’ll never accept that bland and boring towns on the German and Dutch seaside again. And Blackpool is peak British seaside town.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Cora

        If Australia had our North European weather, you’d also build alternatives to going to the beach in seaside towns. The problem is that the Germans and the Dutch don’t do that, with the exception of Scheveningen

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mark Hepworth

        Like many things, the “traditional” British seaside resort is pretty much the invention/fault of the Victorians.
        Periods of weird social and economic conflict and change have to be good for something, after all.

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  3. JJ

    Oops, Cam, it looks as though you let through a spam post from a clickbait site full of plagiarized entries.

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  5. Andrew

    Thanks. I read this one last week, and really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to the sequels.

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