Series: Murderbot Diaries #1
Publisher: Tor Books
Released: May 2, 2017
All Systems Red by Martha Wells begins The Murderbot Diaries, a new science fiction action and adventure series that tackles questions of the ethics of sentient robotics. It appeals to fans of Westworld, Ex Machina, Ann Leckie's Imperial Raadch series, or lain M. Banks' Culture novels. The main character is a deadly security droid that has bucked its restrictive programming and is balanced between contemplative self discovery and an idle instinct to kill all humans. In a corporate dominated s pa cef a ring 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.1 Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighbouring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.
All Systems Red packs a great premise, and a main character with a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it ended before it dragged me in as far as it definitely could have done.
We follow the plot of All Systems Red as told by the main character, who exists in an uncanny grey area between being a robot and a human. The story is told with an emotional, sometimes even ironic, distance by the robot itself as things take an unexpected turn during the research mission it is there to protect. The way in which the story is told, the main character, and the perception they have of themselves, was at least as interesting to me as the storyline, and it gave the book an interesting philosophical and moral dimension. I think different readers will read very different things into the actions and thoughts of the main character, and the ambiguity very much added to the book rather than detracted from it.
However, the book ended too soon. I realize that the series continues, and I appreciate that it does, but where I would have expected a first-in-a-series book like All Systems Red to feel like a setup for something to come, it felt incomplete instead. The at-an-arms-length way in which the story is told does serve to set up the main character, but it also pushed me away from engaging in the story, and what I was left with was a book consisting of a character I liked telling me a story I wasn’t given a reason to care much about.
That said, this is a book where a reread might well make me enjoy it more, as my perception of the main character changed throughout the book, and my perception of the story depended almost entirely on what I thought of the main character. And, that said, I did enjoy it, I just found it almost irritating that it didn’t seem to let me enjoy it as much as I might have done. In any case, I have high hopes for the following books in the series.