Review: Martha Wells & The Murderbot Diaries

Reviewing novellas like The Murderbot Diaries has always been very hard for me. They contain so much in such a small package, and I simply find it challenging. But with the release of Network Effect – the first full-length novel of the Diaries, thought I could give it a shot.

So I sat down and binge-read the 3 novellas I still hadn’t, back-to-back. I feel more Murderboty than ever, and this makes me extremely happy. Join me in this short study in Murderbot and make your summer worthwhile with everyone’s favorite SecUnit.

The Murderbot Writing the Diaries

Murderbot is a company SecUnity – a genderless, painfully shy killing machine. An amalgam of organic and non-organic parts, who wants nothing more but to be left alone. Why? In order to enjoy an endless library of downloaded media and its favorite soap opera, in particular.

As a killing machine, Murderbot is monitored by a governor module that can issue punishment if necessary. No one’s about to put up with that, so the SecUnit hacks it. But instead of going rogue and on a lifelong killing spree, it uses the newfound freedom to form free will and watch Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon whenever possible.

But something or other always comes between it and its favorite soap opera. And that something or other always tries to kill its contracted or chosen clients. And Murderbot can’t have that either. The novellas follow the bulky menacing exterior of a marshmallow on its journey of self-discovery, growth, and evolution. Swinging from complete asociality (and assholery) to “Nobody was touching my humans”, Murderbot makes its way into the readers’ hearts. All through its masterfully crafted interaction, perception, and internalization of the world around it.

And did I mention it’s not the best at having emotions? Yeah, you’ll love Murderbot to bits if you just hop on for the ride. I’ll give you one relevant quote for each novella hoping to trigger your curiosity and desire to read them.

Potential Spoilers Ahead

With a spoiler-free conclusion!

The Murderbot Diaries: All Systems Red 5/5*

All Systems Red is the first book in the series, and it introduces Murderbot with a bang, making two things clear – it could have gone on a killing spree but simply wasn’t interested in it. It’s pretty content with protecting the stupid humans on their research mission on a distant world. And to spend its limited free time just watching Sanctuary Moon. But nothing in the life of a SecUnit is supposed to be easy or to go smoothly.

“I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. … As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.”

After another team on the planet has been killed, Murderbot needs all of its fortitude and skills to protect the soft and stupid humans when they go investigating. All while trying to maintain a healthy distance, because humans make it feel uncomfortable. Especially after they find out it’s hacked its governor module.

Needless to say, and despite the promise on part of Dr. Mensah that a new future awaits it, Murderbot uses the first opportunity to hop on a transport ship and disappear.

The Murderbot Diaries: Artificial Condition 4/5*

That disappearance act leads us to book two in the Murderbot series – Artificial Condition. Murderbot is hell-bent on going back to the place that got it erased the first time. Where it snapped and massacred a whole bunch of people.

And it’s hell-bent on doing it without interactions with humans. Little does it know it’s about to cross paths with ART – the bot pilot of the transport it uses to get to the site of the accident. In an instant, Murderbot is made aware that ART is its superior. For this, and other reasons, ART actually stands for Asshole Research Transport. I can’t help but ship these two, although, with Murderbot’s aversion to sex, I don’t see it happening.

To get a better idea, ART’s just as awkward and adorable.

“…the Asshole Research Transport with the immense processing capabilities whose metaphorical hand I had had to hold because it had become emotionally compromised by a fictional media serial.”

Needless to say, these two make a great team. Murderbot has to learn the ways of pretending to be human, and ART holds its hand along the way. It also makes on-point suggestions on how to improve the act.

Of course, while researching into its past, Murderbot gets involved with another group of humans it doesn’t care about at first. Eventually, it does everything in its power to keep them safe and help them deal with an ominous employer.

If the book’s so awesome, why just 4 out of 5 stars, you ask? Well, ART was the biggest merit of that book. The rest of the plot was rather random. I was unable to form a connection with the rest of the side characters, compared to the other books. But it was still an amazing adventure!

The Murderbot Diaries: Rogue Protocol 5/5*

The third installment in the Murderbot series, Rogue Protocol, takes our SecUnit on the trail of the baddies – GrayCris and their shady business on a terraforming facility. It eventually becomes obvious that the corporation doesn’t uphold the laws and is not afraid to kill to cover its tracks.

In Rogue Protocol, apart from the usual action and near-death situations, Murderbot becomes more and more humane and even human, while at the same time – evolves. There’s the mandatory group of humans that must be saved:

“If you had to take care of humans, it was better to take care of small soft ones who were nice to you and thought you were great because you kept preventing them from being murdered.”

It comes across another research team and first pretends to be a security consultant, and then – a proper SecUnit sent by a security consultant, and, of course, its cover eventually gets blown. Martha Wells works hard throughout the novellas to convince both the reader and Murderbot that there are humans who would appreciate and respect constructs as equals and not just as tools.

That’s evident from the way another construct – Miki, is treated by the research team. It’s their friend and its loss is mourned.

The Murderbot Diaries: Exit Strategy 5/5*

After escaping with its parts still attached in the previous novella, in Exit Strategy, Murderbot decides to use the intelligence gathered on GrayCris to help its former employer – Dr. Mensah, in her legal battle with the corporation.

But when it decides to seek out Mensah, Murderbot realizes something has gone terribly wrong, and Mensah might be in need of saving. That eventually reunites it with its former team (the one from All Systems Red) but it’s gone a long way from being the aloof SecUnit that hid behind a faceplate:

“SecUnits are never allowed to sit down or use human furniture whether on or off duty, so I sat on one of the chairs and put my feet up on the table. Then I took my feet off the table because it wasn’t comfortable.”

Its evolution, not just as a highly-operational cyborg, but as a free-willed being, a person in its own right, is obvious in every line. To the point where it lets its privacy bubble be penetrated:

“But I was the only one here, so I braced myself and made the ultimate sacrifice. “Uh, you can hug me if you need to.” … Except it wasn’t entirely awful.”

And now that it’s finally found its place with the humans, time for the next adventure!

Murderbot Diaries Order – 2022 Update

In case you’re making your first steps in the exciting universe of Murderbot and their friends, you can trust the ordered review I’ve made here. That’s the exact Murderbot Diaries order to read them in:

  1. All Systems Red
  2. Artificial Condition
  3. Rogue Protocol
  4. Exit Strategy
  5. Network Effect – which is a novel. It could be read as a standalone, but my personal recommendation is to read the novellas first, to get the most out of the story.
  6. Fugitive Telemetry – currently, the last novella in the series, released in 2021 and still a blast as ever.

There are 3 more books acquired by the publisher that will be in the universe, but there’s not much to talk about them yet. Keep an eye on this list, it will be updated when something newsworthy happens. In the meantime, reference this Murderbot Diaries order and get to reading!

Read the Murderbot Series!

If you join Murderbot on its adventures, you’ll have the most fun and weirdly relatable experience ever! That construct is so humane and human-like that it’s mind-blowing. Of course, the stark differences are there when you compare it to the stupid and weak humans, but as a whole, it’s a very good lesson that anyone can have the capacity for good and empathy inside of them, no matter who they are.

I promise you to fall in love with this quirky genderless killing machine, especially if you’re the type to prefer solitude and me-time to hanging out with the humans. The wit that comes so naturally to Martha Wells is a bonus point.

With Network Effect just released, the story of our favorite SecUnit is nowhere near to its end, and with the announced sixth book – the Fugitive Telemetry novella, I can’t wait to explore more of Murderbot’s depth as a being. Some ART is always a welcomed bonus.

Have you read any of the novellas? What is your impression of this precious creature? Share down in the comments and if you’ve already read Network Effect! I’ve pushed it high up my TBR pile with that Murderbot series marathon I had, and can’t wait to get to it.

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The Murderbot Diaries
Book Review
All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, Exit Strategy by Martha Wells
I’m a copywriter by work, reader by heart, writer by night & a daydreamer all year round. I dabble in graphic design whenever time’s left. I breathe words and try to weave worlds.
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