Friday, January 11, 2019

RTFB 62: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

RTFB is a feature where we push our favorite reads that just aren't getting enough attention, or in some cases where we can't write a normal review because we just want to fangirl squee.

We're also opening it up to anyone who would like to guest post. Do you have a book that you just LURVED but feel like it's not getting the play it deserves? Email us to let us know and we'd be THRILLED to have you post about it here! Especially if its something we haven't reviewed yet - that's even better (but not necessary!)

If you're interested email

Read This F@!%ing Book 62:

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

I've been trying to figure out the best way to review this series for a couple weeks now because all I can do is fangirl over how good it is and not in a coherent enough manner for a review. Then it hit me the other night that I can do a Read This F@!%ing Book post about it!

I know I've said this about a ton of sci-fi books from last year but The Murderbot Diaries is one of those sci-fi series that has reminded me of why I love the genre so much! The series is about an AI that is part-synthetic, part-organic intelligence, aka a SecUnit, that has been rented out as part of a corporate package to a survey team as their security and when things go south later, MurderBot is pretty much the only thing that’s going to keep the team alive. The subsequent novellas follow our favorite SecUnit as they're pulled into various adventures while traversing inhabited space.

One of the things I love about this series is that takes on the classic commentary about AIs and their sense of self but this time the perspective we get is from that of an AI. And not just any AI. we get one that has... well, issues. I will admit that there’s a strong temptation to quote liberally from all four of these novellas and I will resist as much as possible but some of Murderbot's internal commentary is too poignant and hilarious to not quote.

Murderbot is the Best Non-Human Protagonist You'll Ever Read
Murderbot has quickly entered the domain of one of my favorite characters ever. One of the things I love about them is that they hacked their own coding to completely become a free agent but they still end up doing the job they were were initially created for. All while pretending they hadn't hacked their coding. I also love that Murderbot is unashamedly cranky and awkward while being vocal about how dumb humans are and actively nursing an addiction to TV dramas. But in the end, they still care about the humans that are in their care even though they would rather be left alone to watch the media they've downloaded from the entertainment feeds. The interplay between their ambivalence towards humans, and their persistent, frustrating desire to protect them from themselves is amazing! And I kind of love that as well as the fact that for a scary SecUnit, Murderbot has an anxiety disorder.

“So, I’m awkward with actual humans. It’s not paranoia about my hacked governor module, and it’s not them; it’s me. I know I’m a horrifying murderbot, and they know it, and it makes both of us nervous, which makes me even more nervous. Also, if I’m not in the armor then it’s because I’m wounded and one of my organic parts may fall off and plop on the floor at any moment and no one wants to see that.” [All Systems Red]

I love that Murderbot never sees themselves as human and we get to see the universe through the filter of an AI. They can intercept and interpret data and electromagnetic signals, hack their way into a lot of things, and operate at a frighteningly fast speed. Humans by comparison are awkward and unable to keep up. The frustration and exasperation they feel because of the humans they're protecting is part of what makes this series great.
“As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.” [All Systems Red]
A Series About An AI is the Best Story On Being Human
Individually, these novellas are an intriguing set of adventures. But collectively, they form a larger story about a machine coming to understand what it means to be human and figuring out what your identity is. Murderbot is a non-human seeking to operate in a human environment and having to work to deal with the variety of signals and cues that it gets from the people (and TV programs) around them. They learn to empathize and essentially learn what it means to be human in the process. By the end of the series, they can relate to people and their own priorities and forms meaningful connections while risking their “life” for the people that they come to protect and care about rather than just follow their original programming and leaving them to die. Murderbot’s journey is far more compelling as a result. And like humans, they're just trying to get by in the world and are making it up as they go along.

Murderbot Isn't the Only Fantastic Character
Murderbot is an amazing character but part of what makes them that way is the other characters that act as a foil for their character development. I'll be honest. It was pretty damn hilarious listening to its encounters with its new human crew and their attempts to humanize the wryly grumpy killing machine and how Murderbot responds to such showings of support and empathy.

“Yes, talk to Murderbot about its feelings. The idea was so painful I dropped to 97 percent efficiency. I’d rather climb back into Hostile One’s mouth.” [All Systems Red]
The scientific team it is charged with protecting is nicely drama free and full of fully fleshed characters you can't hope but root for. Wells manages to wring a good bit of emotive action out of how Murderbot and its crew respond to each other and those interactions are part of what makes the story so great.

“Gurathin turned to me. "So you don't have a governor module, but we could punish you by looking at you."

I looked at him. "Probably, right up until I remember I have guns built into my arms.” [All Systems Red]

The Audiobooks are Fantastic!
I listened to all four novellas on audio and they were amazing! The narrator, Kevin R. Free, does such a fantastic job of bringing not only Murderbot to life but the whole scientific team they're protecting. I know I would have loved this series just reading it but listening to the audio just made it so much better!

I Need the Novel ASAP
Some of the best news we got this year was that we're getting a full-length Murderbot novel in the near future! I need it in my life and I hope we can see more of ART and some of the other characters we met along the way.

Overall, The Murderbot Diaries are really fun pieces of science fiction adventure with compelling characters and great pacing that are great reads for new and old sci-fi fans. I can't recommend these novellas enough!

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