This is actually my second trip through the outstanding ALL SYSTEMS RED, book one of the four-part novella series, THE MURDERBOT DIARIES. With the final installment, EXIT STRATEGY, released, and a full length follow-up book announced earlier this year, I decided to make time and finally read the complete adventures of Murderbot.
ALL SYSTEMS RED features the self-named Murderbot, an AI construct in a humanoid body made of both artificial and organic parts. Murderbot is supposed to be a fully regulated security robot, but it’s managed to hack its governor module and can do whatever it damn well pleases. To hide in plain sight, Murderbot does the bare minimum amount of work to make its human owners think that it’s following its programming. When its not on mandatory duty, Murderbot prefers to act like any good introvert, hiding in its room and binging entertainment programs. But when a series of near-lethal accidents start happening to the survey team Murderbot is supposed to be protecting, it has to find a way to get everyone safely off-planet — even if that means revealing its true nature.
The genius of THE MURDERBOT DIARIES is the complete deadpan delivery of Murderbot’s inner thoughts. The tale is told from its first-person perspective, so the reader gets Murderbot’s reactions to everything from monster attacks to sex-scenes in entertainment programs. But what really endeared Murderbot to me was its introverted musings, its desires to hide behind its opaque helmet and avoid human interaction as much as possible. I’ve certainly had those impulses, and it was these touches to Murderbot’s personality that made it, for lack of a better word, human. Add to that the fact that Murderbot chose its name out of a feeling of guilt and insecurity, and you have a truly compelling AI character.
As for the plot itself, it is short, sweet, and to the point, and that isn’t a bad thing. Wells utilizes her time effectively, including both action-filled moments, and some nice beats for paranoia and empathy among the human crew members as they try to figure out who is trying to kill them, and what to do with a creature that has taken to referring to itself as Murderbot. There’s a wide range of reactions to the AI’s sudden revealing of itself, and they’re all believable. The author doesn’t let contemplation of AI rights get in the way of moving the story forward, and the two elements dovetail nicely.
After a great introduction to THE MURDERBOT DIARIES, I’m looking forward to checking out the next novella, ARTIFICIAL CONDITION!