[Spoliers avoided in the post but I will post spoilers in the comments. So avoid the comments if you don’t want spoilers.]
I sort of gave up reviewing Murderbot a few novellas ago. There is a sense that actually the plot really doesn’t matter and the simplest explanation of an instalment is that its a Murderbot story and the reader either knows the formula or doesn’t and if they don’t then see earlier reviews. However, that belies how much I enjoy each and every one of Martha Wells’s brilliant episodes of Murderbot’s continuing adventures.
The essence of the formula is the juxtaposition of this incredibly vulnerable highly competent killing machine. Murderbot has been shot and blasted and zapped but the struggles with their own sense of self and connections with other people pulls you in.
The novel-length Network Effect works in much the same way as the novellas but extended to novel length by splitting the action into a series of dramatic acts in different locations. There’s an underlying mystery but even that is familiar (corporate shenanigans around an abandoned terraforming colony and alien technology). The story is intended to be a stand-alone so the broader plot around GrayCris and Preservation aren’t the main focus (although discussed). The Asshole Research Transport aka ART is back but…well, spoilers.
What we do get and what each of the novellas have provided is this intentionally slow and deliberate character arc for Murderbot. Their gradual experience with building personal relationships and connections with other people or minds is a feature of the stories. Murderbot coming to understand themselves better and dealing with people better is what drives the stories and pushes them beyond a series of exciting set piece action sequences.
So again, I’m not really reviewing Network Effect. Poke at the world-building of the Corporate Rim and it still doesn’t really make sense and that really doesn’t matter (and also, what we get is Murderbot’s account of how he thinks all of this works and while they are never deceitful they aren’t wholly reliable either). The action is exciting, Murderbot commentary on it is both funny & moving, and there are some warm and fuzzy parts.