Review: System Collapse by Martha Wells

Review: System Collapse by Martha WellsSystem Collapse (The Murderbot Diaries, #7) by Martha Wells
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Murderbot Diaries #7
Pages: 256
Published by Tordotcom on November 14, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

Am I making it worse? I think I'm making it worse.
Everyone's favorite lethal SecUnit is back.
Following the events in Network Effect, the Barish-Estranza corporation has sent rescue ships to a newly-colonized planet in peril, as well as additional SecUnits. But if there’s an ethical corporation out there, Murderbot has yet to find it, and if Barish-Estranza can’t have the planet, they’re sure as hell not leaving without something. If that something just happens to be an entire colony of humans, well, a free workforce is a decent runner-up prize.
But there’s something wrong with Murderbot; it isn’t running within normal operational parameters. ART’s crew and the humans from Preservation are doing everything they can to protect the colonists, but with Barish-Estranza’s SecUnit-heavy persuasion teams, they’re going to have to hope Murderbot figures out what’s wrong with itself, and fast!
Yeah, this plan is... not going to work.

My Review:

The system that is collapsing in Murderbot’s seventh outing is Murderbot’s own – and it’s angsting about it in ways that are not remotely leading to optimal performance. Which in turn is leading to even less optimal performance.

In other words, as we check back into Murderbot’s usually snarkastic consciousness, Murderbot is a mess and doing its best to hide the full depth of its mess from itself. Every time its narrative bumps up against the incident that is causing it all the angst, it retreats into “[redacted]” and tries to work around the dysfunction.

The problem is that Murderbot is NOT truly working around whatever is eating away at it. As much as Murderbot likes to believe it is superior to humans – and it often is in the situations in which it finds itself – when it comes to dealing with its own shit it doesn’t function any better than the rest of us.

Which is reassuring IN a character the reader identifies and follows along with – but not so reassuring TO a character from its own internal perspective – as Murderbot learns to its own increasing dismay. And further degradation of its performance.

It seems like Murderbot is suffering from the SecUnit version of ‘Impostor Syndrome’ – and it’s just as uncomfortable for it as it is for us. Also every bit as panic inducing.

Meanwhile, Murderbot, its fellow snarkastic AI ART – or at least ART’s physically smaller drone as ART itself is a spaceship – and their collective humans are in the process of organizing a recently discovered ‘lost’ colony to resist the political, corporate, disinformation campaign of propaganda and eventual virtual enslavement being propagated by the Barish-Estranza corporation.

But the humans that Murderbot’s humans are attempting to help seem to be far, far from ready to BE helped. There’s a schism. In fact, there are multiple schisms among the human population as a result of alien contamination and mind control. And the resulting desire among the humans to get revenge on each other for what happened when they were being mind controlled.

So no one seems to be telling anyone anything like the information really needed to resolve this mess in a peaceful fashion. Then again, that doesn’t seem all that atypical of the history of the planet in contention – all the way back to the original settlement.

Among all the misinformation and disinformation being bandied about, one of the locals finally admits that there’s another colony on the planet that needs to weigh in on their narrowing options. If that breakaway group can be contacted. If they’re still alive.

And if the Barish-Estranza corporate goons haven’t gotten their hooks in first.

But of course they have, because Murderbot’s luck never runs any other way. But it will have to run as fast as it can to catch up and outwit those corporate operatives any way it can all the while wondering if it’s still capable of doing so at all.

Escape Rating A-: As I’ve said in pretty much every review of an entry in The Murderbot Diaries except that first joint review of the first three books in the series (All Systems Red, Artificial Condition and Rogue Protocol), this seventh entry in the series is not the place to become acquainted with Murderbot’s brand of snarkasm. Start with All Systems Red. and buckle up for a wild ride.

For those of us who have been following Murderbot’s (mis)adventures from the beginning, this one feels like it starts a bit in the middle – perhaps even more than usual. And the somewhat dystopian, corporate controlled universe that Murderbot inhabits has become complex enough that I felt a bit lost at the beginning.

Which is also somewhat fitting, as Murderbot is definitely kind of lost at the beginning of the story. So a whole lot of this one is Murderbot being uncertain about itself and its competence, dealing with that uncertainty badly – as it deals with all the emotions it claims it doesn’t have. All the while, the situation in which it and its humans are currently endangered is every bit as FUBAR’d as usual.

Murderbot’s only good days are the ones where it gets to watch its space operas in peace – and those days are generally rare. And none of the days since its humans arrived at this colony have been anywhere near that good.

While the foreground story is of Murderbot’s crisis of confidence and its rise to that challenge, the situation in which it takes place is a combination of humans behaving both badly and humanly, and of the desperation of humans on all sides as the verities of their worldview – however terribly and skewed, begin to erode.

Therefore, in the background of the story, it’s clear that Murderbot’s system is not the only one that is collapsing. Its personal collapse is something that can be fixed – or at least dealt with. But the system of corporate hegemony/control/tyranny of this universe is showing signs of its inevitable collapse – a situation that I hope to see come to the foreground in future installments of this series, especially in the two untitled entries yet to come.

Review: Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Review: Fugitive Telemetry by Martha WellsFugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries, #6) by Martha Wells
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Murderbot Diaries #6
Pages: 176
Published by Tordotcom on April 27, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.
When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?)
Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!

My Review:

If you like characters who have their snark-o-matic turned up to 11 ALL THE TIME you’re going to love Murderbot. Because it’s snarktastic to the max and we get to spend the entire story inside its head as it thinks about just how much it would like to shove all the humans around it out the nearest airlock – or at least tie and gag them all so they stop getting in its way.

Because we’ve all felt that way from time to time. And we all come to the same conclusion that Murderbot does, that we really can’t indulge in those particular desires because the consequences would be too damn much trouble.

Not that Murderbot couldn’t handle the trouble, but then there’d be even more trouble, and it would all take time away from watching bad space opera on downloaded media. And haven’t we all been exactly there – or close enough?

What’s interesting about this particular entry in the Murderbot Diaries, at least from the perspective of a Murderbot fan (and Murderbot would be oh-so-pissed to know it had fans!), is that this is a story about Murderbot adapting to its new circumstances rather than a story about dealing with one evil corporation’s desire to get revenge for Murderbot’s favored humans’ successful scotching of their extreme version of corporate skullduggery.

Not that the result of this entry isn’t ALSO the scotching of extreme corporate skullduggery, it’s just that it’s a different corporation so the skullduggery isn’t PERSONAL. Now that Murderbot is starting to adjust – after its own fashion – to being a person. Not a human, Murderbot has no desire to be human – thank you very much.

But Murderbot is not merely an individual but is acknowledged by the powers-that-be on Preservation Station – if not most of the residents – that it is a self-willed entity responsible for its own actions. That it is not owned or fostered or infantilized by the humans it has chosen to consort with.

Most of the humans on the Station are having a bit of a problem with that. Mostly because the popular media image of SecUnits – the hybrid human/AI beings that Murderbot was programmed to be – have a bad reputation to say the least. Technically Murderbot is a “rogue SecUnit” who has hacked its own programming. From the perspective of the corporation that did the original programming and thinks it OWNS Murderbot, that perspective is kind of correct. Except that it mostly isn’t.

Everyone expects Murderbot to run around and start murdering people. Its self-selected name designation does not exactly help it counteract that image.

It also doesn’t help when it finds a dead body on a station that has such a low incidence of murder that entirely too many humans want to blame the murder on Murderbot. Murderbot just wants to do what it does best, investigate this extremely anomalous incident in case it might have something to do with the evil corporation that is still chasing the humans it has taken under its protection.

After all, it needs to deal with the possible threat so that it can return to viewing the next episode of its favorite space opera serial.

Escape Rating A: If you love Murderbot as much as I do, Fugitive Telemetry is a terrific opportunity to get back in touch with its snark. If you have not yet met Murderbot, this is not the place to begin your acquaintance. Start with All Systems Red to understand just what makes Murderbot so much deliciously snarky fun and to get an insight on just what made this series a nominee for the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Series as well as garnering nominations for last year’s Murderbot outing, Network Effect, for Best Novel in both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

Fugitive Telemetry is a story about Murderbot doing the job that it was originally programmed to do, just doing it for itself and for the job’s own sake and not because someone ordered it to do so. Murderbot is a very noir detective solving a murder in a place that doesn’t even have any mean streets – although it certainly has plenty of mean people.

One of the things that makes Murderbot so fascinating is that it most explicitly has zero desire to be human. It’s not Data, it doesn’t think humans are “better” in any way and does not aspire to be one of us. It thinks we’re stupid and useless and full of shit in more ways than one – and it’s right.

So even when it’s trying to blend in, it’s not because it thinks we’re better, it’s because it thinks we’re worse but that we’ll get out of it’s way more easily if it can make us a bit more comfortable – or at least a bit less upset with it.

The only thing it seems to think we’re actually good for is producing media with which it can while away its actually copious free time.

At the same time, as much as it finds humans irksome – often in the extreme – it is also saying to itself all the things that we’ve said to ourselves about other people and never our ownselves. Murderbot thinks all the kinds of things we wish we’d said and its internal voice is wry and snarky to the point of chortles and chuckles and even the occasional LOL.

So if you like your detectives über-competent and ultra-snarky, pick up Fugitive Telemetry or any of the Murderbot Diaries and take a walk inside Murderbot’s head. It’s a fun place to spend an afternoon.

Also a much more survivable place than being the person or corporation that Murderbot has in its sights. Meanwhile, I have Murderbot – or at least its diaries – squarely in my reading sights. It’s just been announced that the author has a new contract with Tordotcom for three more books in this fantastic series. Go Murderbot!

Review: Network Effect by Martha Wells

Review: Network Effect by Martha WellsNetwork Effect (The Murderbot Diaries, #5) by Martha Wells
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Murderbot Diaries #5
Pages: 352
Published by Tordotcom on May 5, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Murderbot returns in its highly-anticipated, first, full-length standalone novel.

You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you're a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you're Murderbot.

Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century.

I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90 plus percent of my problems are.

When Murderbot's human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.

Drastic action it is, then.

My Review:

If you are already well acquainted with Murderbot, Network Effect is a fantastic way to get to know it and its world a whole lot better. But if you do not already know Murderbot, this is not the place to get to know Murderbot. That would be All Systems Red, the first book in this multiple Hugo Award winning series.

Murderbot is the name it gave itself once it hacked its own governor module and went completely rogue. Except it didn’t. SecUnits like Murderboth are property of one of the many megalomaniacal corporations that run the galaxy, and are more explicitly slaves than the human employees of those corporations. But not more explicitly by much.

It’s only through the events that take place in the first four novellas, All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy, that Murderbot finds a group of humans who are willing to give it purpose without suppressing its individuality.

Dr. Mensah and her family and colleagues treat Murderbot as another colleague. The messy emotions that engenders within Murderbot make it uncomfortable in the extreme. It finds humans messy and stupid at the best of times. Feelings, its and theirs, are something to be avoided at all costs. Except that they can’t be.

This is a story that turns out to be all about the emotions that Murderbot really doesn’t want to deal with, wrapped around a page-turning adventure. Because the heart of this story is about friendship. Murderbot’s seldom acknowledged friendship for ART, the Asshole Research Transport who helped it learn to blend in better among augmented humans. It’s also about Murderbot’s need to help the people it has designated as its humans, even when they put themselves in danger and drive it crazy.

The story begins when Murderbot and some of its humans are kidnapped by weird gray humanoids who look diseased and talk like cartoon villains. Complete with bwahahas. It middles with Murderbot discovering that his kidnapping (bot-napping?) was orchestrated by his friend ART in ART’s desperate attempt to save not merely itself and its humans, but to also save, quite possibly, humanity itself – although that is just possibly a side effect – or even an unintended consequence. Neither Murderbot nor ART are all that taken with humanity in general, just their own special portion of it.

And it ends with a dramatic rescue attempt that finally gets Murderbot to understand that it is valued for itself and not just for its functions. That’s a frightening revelation for a being who is still rightfully paranoid about its fate if the wrong people ever figure out what it really is.

Something that it is still figuring out for itself.

Escape Rating A+: I’ve been waiting for Network Effect for almost two years, and it was well worth the wait. This is one of those reviews where I just want to squee all over the page. This was definitely a one-day read for me. I absolutely could not put it down. At all. Not that I tried very hard.

What makes this series – and each story within it – work so well is Murderbot’s voice. The story is told from Murderbot’s perspective, in its first-person voice. We’re there inside its head, and its an awesomely snarky place to be. While Murderbot does manage to keep itself from blurting out all of the insensitive and insulting things that it’s thinking, it’s thinking them a lot. It says everything in its head that all of us think all the time, try to pretend we’re not thinking, and praying that never actually come out of our mouths. It’s inner thoughts are constantly rude, and its extremely dry sense of humor is on the gallows side.

This series is probably great in audio. First person narratives, when they are done well, and this one is, generally are.

Murderbot is also fascinating because Murderbot is a version of Pinocchio who has zero desire to become a real boy. Or, for that matter, a real girl, a real genderfluid person or, in all honesty, a real human at all. Murderbot just wants its humans to do what it tells them in situations when security is threatened, and to be left alone to watch its really bad SF serial dramas the rest of the time. Part of what makes Murderbot so interesting is that its entire story, its journey, is its search for personhood without any of that personhood being tied to humanity.

Of course, what Murderbot wants is not what Murderbot gets. Just like the rest of us.

While its setting in the stars among abandoned colonies and corporate overlords run amuck reads much like the gameworld in The Outer Worlds, The progress of the story and the journey of its protagonist feels very similar to that of Finder, both in the universe-weary voice of its first-person narrator, and in the “out of the frying pan and into the fire” nature of its plot. Murderbot, like Fergus Ferguson, seems to be an avatar of Murphy. Whatever can go wrong generally does, and then continues right on going. Wrong. And wronger. And every so often wrongest.

And yet, it perseveres, usually while denying it’s in trouble and serving up a heaping helping of snarkitude. That it manages to save, not only its humans but possibly humanity as a whole in the process is just part of its charm. A charm that it would deny it had.

I loved this one so hard I’m having a difficult time conveying just how much I loved it. If you don’t know Murderbot, get All Systems Red and settle in for a terrific binge read. It’s awesome.

Meanwhile, I sincerely hope there will be more Murderbot in the future. Its journey is far from over, and I want to read it.

Joint Review: Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

Joint Review: Exit Strategy by Martha WellsExit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries, #4) by Martha Wells
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Murderbot Diaries #4
Pages: 172
Published by on October 2, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Murderbot wasn't programmed to care. So, its decision to help the only human who ever showed it respect must be a system glitch, right?

Having traveled the width of the galaxy to unearth details of its own murderous transgressions, as well as those of the GrayCris Corporation, Murderbot is heading home to help Dr. Mensah — its former owner (protector? friend?) — submit evidence that could prevent GrayCris from destroying more colonists in its never-ending quest for profit.

But who's going to believe a SecUnit gone rogue?

And what will become of it when it's caught?

Our Review:

Marlene: Kind of an ironic title, this. Murderbot really doesn’t have one. An exit strategy, that is. Not for the immediate problem, and not for the overall problem. It is fun and surprisingly heartbreaking watching it try. I say surprising because, after all, Murderbot itself would decry, loudly and often, the concept that it has a heart in anything other than the biological sense – if it actually has one of those. Come to think of it, I’m not completely sure. It does have organic parts, I’m just not sure if it has that part in particular.

Galen: One of the problems with those organic parts is that they sometimes get in the way of certain things that Murderbot would like to do… like fully delete memories it doesn’t wish to carry but nonetheless help to push Murderbot (and the plot) forward. It is fitting that by the end of Exit Strategy, Murderbot finds itself reconstructing its memories… and ending up with, for the first time, a free choice.

Exit Strategy picks off right where Rogue Protocol left off, with Murderbot knowing exactly what GrayCris was up to. The problem? Dr. Mensah needs to be rescued… and GrayGris is gunning for Murderbot.

Marlene: Exit Strategy, along with Murderbot’s lack of an exit strategy, has an “out of the frying pan into the fire” aspect. Or perhaps that should be the “perils of Pauline” with Murderbot substituting for Pauline. It seems to be endlessly in trouble in this one – possibly as part of its own messed-up reactions. It feels a need to help Dr. Mensah, and it doesn’t want to, both at the same time.

Well, really, it does, but it is having endless difficulties admitting why it wants to. There’s certainly a sense that it feels the need to right the wrong that it has inadvertently caused through its actions in Rogue Protocol. It went to investigate GrayCris, at least in part because it wanted to help Dr. Mensah against them. What it didn’t count on was that GrayCris would interpret its self-willed mission as yet another attempt by Dr. Mensah to get to the bottom of whatever crap they seem to be pulling – and that GrayCris would react accordingly. Well, accordingly for an evil corporation at any rate.

Galen: What GrayCris didn’t count on is that Murderbot’s quest changed it. As much as Murderbot likes to talk about retreating to its bad space soap opera media, it spends the entire series of novellas learning and growing. Concretely, this means that by the end of Exit Strategy, Murderbot has taken down opponents that a stock SecUnit has no business even tangling with. While this means that the action in the novella is satisfyingly complicated, Murderbot’s increased capability as a SeUnit is secondary to its growth as an individual. To be clear, not in the Pinocchio-becoming-a-real-boy sense that many stories about artificial constructs and androids follow, as this passage demonstrates:

“I don’t want to be human.”
Dr. Mensah said, “That’s not an attitude a lot of humans are going to understand. We tend to think that because a bot or a construct looks human, its ultimate goal would be to become human.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Rather, the sequence of four novellas chronicle’s Murderbot’s growth as a being able to make its own choices, including choosing who to associate with.

Marlene: In the end, that is what is so fascinating about Murderbot – not that its line of snark doesn’t have plenty of charms of its own. Throughout Exit Strategy, Murderbot keeps making choices – and those choices increase in complexity and, for lack of a better word, selfishness. Not that it does things that benefit itself – because the ultimate selfish act would be to freighter-hop while playing its melodramas for the rest of its existence. But its actions have become acts of selfhood and self-determination, even if that determination is to sacrifice itself so that the others can escape.

What it does not reckon on is that those others see it as a person in its own right, just as it sees them. And that its ability to grow, adapt, change, try, fail, succeed and ultimately hope is emblematic of its journey to selfhood. A selfhood that is explicitly not humanity. It is on its way to becoming a real person, but not, as Data once aspired to be, a real boy.

And in its confusion of what all that means, we empathize with it, even as it refuses to become one of us, but still manages to become one of itself.

While its growth is far from complete at the end of Exit Strategy, it has reached a point where it has grown enough to begun to acknowledge its own contradictions and confusions, just like the rest of us. And it wraps up the loose ends of this part of the story, the one that began in All Systems Red.

But I’ve just heard a rumor that Murderbot will have a full-length novel coming out in 2020. YAY! Hopefully it will come in time to read on the long plane ride to WorldCon in New Zealand.

Galen: Yay indeed! Which leads me to…

Galen’s Escape Rating A: This is a fitting conclusion to the sequence of four novellas; while it wraps up the central mysteries set up in All Systems Red, there is clearly a lot more we could learn about the setting that Wells has made… and I hope to learn that through Murderbot’s eyes.

Marlene’s Escape Rating A: This is indeed a fitting conclusion to this sequence, while still leaving plenty of open threads that can be picked up in that much anticipated full-length novel. The story as we have it is Murderbot’s journey, in the sense that this is its own story. As the story of a machine being rather than a flesh creature, it is fascinating to see the way that the author has given Murderbot selfhood without falling into any of the traps of either it wanting to be human or of it, heaven forbid, falling in love. Instead, it seems to be reaching for friendship and companionship, and most of all, acceptance. Learning to accept itself as it is will be its biggest challenge – one that it is more than up to.

I hope we get to find out how it manages.