Litstack Recs | 2021 Reading List & The Murderbot Diaries

by Tee Tate

The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells

This recommendation is not for a book, but a series of books – one that I am only halfway through, but can’t wait to keep reading – and I just can’t wait till the end because I’m already enamored by them! The series is The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, and so far it consists of four novellas and one full length novel. I’ve read the first three novellas – All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, and Rogue Protocol – and I’m itching to read the next one, Exit Strategy, as it apparently brings the story arc of the first three full circle.

Although the story arc is more a means to an end, which is learning more about this incredible character at the heart of the series.

I think Wikipedia has the best snipped synopsis of the books:  “The series is about an artificial construct designed as a Security Unit, which manages to override its governor module, thus enabling it to develop independence, which it primarily uses to watch soap operas. As it spends more time with some caring humans, it starts developing human feelings, which it finds inconvenient.”

The mix of dispassionate observation, mechanical reaction and manipulation, a burgeoning sensitivity (including its own lack of need and indeed, aversion to personal interaction) and sense of … not responsibility or accountability but awareness of how it affects those around it and how it can be more than merely a tool (while still operating as a sophisticated machine) is utterly fascinating. And the story is told with such straightforward flippancy – due to it not being burdened by morality (designed purpose, yes) that it is often drolly hilarious. That this character does not even have a name (although it at times calls itself by a made up name to make it easier for it to navigate the environment it finds itself in) or even a sex (I’m still not sure if it presents itself as male or female – nor does it matter), shows just how incongruous it is – which is delightful. Heck, even that there is no value attached to calling it “it” is marvelous. It’s not an anthropomorphic machine nor a mechanized human – it’s a SecUnit, and that’s all it aspires to be. As long as it has time to watch its soap operas.

To observe it wend its way among humans (and the ways it has to hide its telltale SecUnit attributes) and also to see its fluent interactions with other systems – both autonomous machines and buried systems – brings a new aspect to future life that other authors display but Martha Wells inhabits. There is little judgement here, yet hard nosed acknowledgement that “it is what it is”, and that is refreshing and very entertaining.

And at the end of things, downright fun. Which is, after all, the best of all possible worlds. I’m having a blast, and can’t recommend The Murderbot Diaries – the whole series – highly enough.

—Sharon Browning

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