NPR: But this book is sneaky. As much as you want to think this is just some lightweight little confection made of robot fights and space murder and as much as All Systems Red wants to present itself as nothing but robot fights and space murder Martha Wells did something really clever. She hid a delicate, nuanced and deeply, grumpily human story inside these pulp trappings, by making her murderous robot story primarily character-driven. And the character doing the driving?
There are subtexts to be read into Murderbot that its experience is a coming-out narrative, that it mirrors the lives of trans people, immigrants, those on the autism spectrum or anyone else who feels the need to hide some essential part of themselves from a population that either threatens or can’t possibly understand them. Or both. And I get all of that because every one of those reads is right.
It’s the wonder of the character that something so alien can be so human. That everyone who has ever had to hide in a crowded room, avert their eyes from power, cocoon themselves in media for comfort or lie to survive can relate. It’s powerful to see that on the page. It’s moving to ride around in the head of something that is so strong and so vulnerable, so murder-y and so frightened, all at the same time.
Best news of all? All Systems Red is only the first of four Murderbot Diaries novellas. Wells followed Red with Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy, all of which have gotten multiple electronic, hard- and softcover releases over the past year or so, with the Red hardcover being released this month after winning Hugo, Nebula, Alex and Locus Awards in 2018. Which is proof, I suppose, that I’m not alone in my love for Murderbot. That we are all a little bit Murderbot. That we see ourselves in its skin. And that reading about this sulky, soap-opera-loving cyborg killing machine might be one of the most human experiences you can have in sci-fi right now.