All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, Book 1)

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, Book 1)
Martha Wells, 2017

Premise: All Murderbot wants is to be left alone to watch tv. Unfortunately, if it doesn't want its free will to be discovered, it still has a job to do, and someone's trying to kill the people it's supposed to protect.

This was an absolute delight. Going in, I thought was that this was a novella from the point of view of a killbot. What I found was a snarky sci-fi adventure with a protagonist whose general misanthropy is not entirely genuine, but this never falters into pathos.

The humans call it Security Unit, or SecUnit, but a murderbot is what it calls itself. The reason why is a mix of black humor and cynicism.

Murderbot is not only hiding its sense of humor but also its free will from both the humans it's assigned to and the shadowy Company that owns it and financed the scientific mission they're on. A SecUnit has consciousness, but it isn't supposed to be able to choose for itself, and Murderbot has to balance appearing compliant with making the right choices when everything falls apart.

Naturally, there's some exploration of consciousness and free will here. What does consciousness mean when it could be corrupted or rewritten? Early on, the humans are surprised to see the organic parts of Murderbot, and it's unclear whether we would think of it more as a cyborg or an android. These questions never overwhelm the action-oriented plot, and the narrative voice is thoroughly winning and perfect throughout.

One other interesting point - I've been careful in this review to describe Murderbot as "it" as the text does, although in my brain it was always "she." I blame/thank the Ancillary Justice series for that one, although Murderbot would be very offended to be given a gender.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book


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