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Monday, September 21, 2020

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Tor, 160 pages, $15.99 (c2017)

I’m in love! With a murderbot.

Our protagonist has no name. “Murderbot” is the designation it has given itself. Part organic, mostly inorganic and weaponized, the SecUnit, its more official name, is sold or leased out, mostly for protection. There is a regulator — remember when R2D2 tricked Luke Skywalker into detaching its regulator? — which Murderbot has disconnected through a fluke when it was reprogrammed after a disastrous mission. Essentially, Murderbot is a free agent, although no one knows, including his latest human crew.

The human crew is on a mission on a far off planet in the way distant future to gather information about that planet. It slowly becomes apparent to the very smart (human) group leader that Murderbot is different. That becomes a very good thing when it also slowly becomes apparent that someone or something is out to get the crew. Murderbot to the rescue!

Murderbot is different, no matter how much the crew tries to treat it as they would a human. It does not like to look people in the eye, becomes uncomfortable riding in their part of the ship and not in its cubicle in the cargo hold, and really doesn’t want to carry on conversations with them. A vaguely autistic robot? Perhaps. It really likes episodes of a space soap opera and watches the episodes in its down time. Its greatest lessons on humanity may be learned from tele-dramas.

Although “All Systems Red” is short, it is packed with humor, thrills, and wonderful characterizations.

I’d give it an MBTB star if it were more recent. As it is, I’ll just give it a *****.

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