The introduction to The Murderbot Diaries is simply great fun! All Systems Red is a refreshing and diverting sci-fi novella with wide appeal; a marvellous package of wry humour, suspense and a healthy dose of compassion.
As much as I love science fiction, I don’t consider myself as a hardcore reader of the genre, and there are a lot of popular series or “required reading” which I have yet to catch-up on. In this respect, I find this book to be original; it is not a space opera, cyberpunk and it is not about an alien invasion. This is a first-person perspective narrative of a humanlike bot, a construct of both organic and inorganic parts, who finds it/him/herself becoming weird and messed up with increasing ‘emotions’ while dealing with her human clients even though the bots are not programmed as such. (Okay, I am going to call the bot a ‘her’ because even though it is technically genderless, I can’t help picturing it as a female. The voice of her first-person perspective just sounds feminine, in my opinion).
Check out its hook right at the beginning.
I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realised I could access the combined feed of entertainment feed carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.
Now, tell me that you don’t want to keep on reading after that! The Murderbot (a self-proclaimed name) is an introverted, socially awkward/anxious ‘geek’ who couldn’t wait to get back to her serials once her job is done instead of hanging around with her human clients to whom she was contracted to as the SecUnit. In corporate-dominated space travel, this was the order of the day for all entities who want to conduct explorations or surveys on various planets. One SecUnit for every ten humans for security reasons, the contractee will also be using the company’s habitats, database and communications systems, and an emergency beacon. As the contracts are, strangely, won by the lowest bidder, the company is cheap and we get a lot of humourous narrative about the deplorable quality and condition of the company’s software and hardware from the Murderbot’s point-of-view.
Even as a construct, the Murderbot is completely relatable and endearing, especially the way she keeps wanting to go back to her serials or trying to sneak in some time to watch her entertainment feeds. There are too many times when I feel a desperate need to be left alone to my books; a feeling I am sure every avid reader out there shares one way or another. While I can’t call myself a social misfit, this is something I empathise with, where any form of interaction can be absolutely frightening, particularly when it involves eye contact and physical touch. The underlying message of the story goes down deeper into the theme of slavery and social outcasts, which these bots essentially are in respect to the humans.
The story is most compelling and amusing when she finds herself feeling out of sorts with her current client, a bunch of scientists and explorers whom she found herself liking, and much to her chagrin were intent on treating her as one of them. Her observation of this group was a hilarious analogy to her serials.
The whole group had been remarkably drama-free so far, which I appreciated. The last few contracts had been like being an involuntary bystander in one of the entertainment feed’s multi-partner relationship serials except I’d hated the whole cast.
There are plenty more of such amusing asides as she and her clients found themselves in a life or death situation. As a rogue SecUnit with a hacked governor module who liked her clients enough not to see them killed, she endeavoured to save them from whatever or whoever is trying to hunt them down. There are great moments of suspense from this arc, although I did find its ending to be quite abrupt.
With its crisp and captivating delivery in a morsel-sized story, I am looking forward to more adventures with the Murderbot.
Review originally written in April 2018