the Little Red Reviewer

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

Posted on: August 19, 2017

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

published May 2017

where I got it: purchased new

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Yes, yes, I know I’m late to the Murderbot party. A while back my twitter feed exploded with things like “I love Murderbot”, and “I want more Murderbot!”, and just shook my head in confusion. I’m actually doubly late to the party, because I’ve now read this novella twice in the last month and am only writing about it now. My lame excuse is that All Systems Red was the August book for my local book club and I wanted to wait until after our book club met and discussed the story to write my review. Also? I’ve been too busy watching Master of None, Arrested Development, and GLOW to give a shit about what anyone else wants.

Much of the fun of our book club meetings is seeing who enjoyed the chosen book, who didn’t, and what people liked and didn’t like. We all have different tastes, and it’s rare that everyone comes to the meeting saying “I loved this book!”. All Systems Red is that rare book. Everyone loved it, we couldn’t stop talking about, and everyone was thrilled to learn that Martha Wells has more Murderbot novellas planned. The bookstore where our book club meets is located next to a police station, and I fear to think what those cops thought when they heard cheers and giggles coming from next door as we all cheered “Murderbot Murderbot Murderbot!”

So, what the hell is this Murderbot craze all about?

Murderbot is a Security Unit bot. You want to explore or scout an unexplored planet? Your contract with the company requires one SecUnit per ten humans, and all sorts of other required equipment of dubious quality. Until said equipment craps out, leaving you to die on a deserted planet, it will record everything you do and say with plans to sell the data later. HubSystem does seem to have a “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” type of personality.

The members of the PreservationAux exploration team have no idea their SecUnit has hacked it’s own governor module, and that this SecUnit helps them and saves their lives because it feels like it, not because it has to. These humans are on a deserted planet with a SecUnit who refers to itself as Murderbot. A SecUnit who has deleted as much data as possible to make room for more downloaded soap operas and other serial entertainments. Murderbot is socially awkward, anti-social, and couldn’t care less about the goals of squishy humans. Murderbot simply wants to be left alone so it can watch downloaded TV shows (huh. wanting to sit around and stream TV shows all day? that sounds, um, familiar)

I can go on and on about the characters, and about Murderbot’s sarcastic sense of humor, and about how Murderbot doesn’t really know how to handle being treated like a person, and how Murderbot is socially awkward and the humans also have learn how to be respectful of someone’s social awkwardness, but all of that skirts the two most important things:

The first thing is that All Systems Red is one of the best stories you’ll read this year. You’ll laugh your head off, you’ll get a kick out of the characters, you’ll find yourself cheering “Murderbot Murderbot Murderbot!”. Just buy it and read it, you can thank me later. I’m waiting for people to start naming their wifi connections, computer networks, and dogs Murderbot. Sorry Hal, you just got replaced. And if you enjoy the “thinky” parts of stories, this second thing will really light your fire:

The second thing is the bigger, deeper thing, the thing that will stick with you. Is Murderbot a person? The folks from PreservationAux are more than happy to treat Murderbot like a person. Leading to the next questions of what defines a person? How intelligent does an artificial intelligence have to be to be able to think for themselves? And once a construct can think for themselves and make their own decisions, are they a person and should they be able to have control over their own life? Because that’s all Murderbot really wants – to live a life of it’s own choosing. Think about Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. If he so wished, would Data be allowed to resign from Starfleet and, I dunno, work on a farm, or be a high school teacher, or get Amazon Prime and be a couch potato? On the flip side, androids such as Data, and SecUnits such as Murderbot are constructed beings who were designed and built at quite an expense. They are expected to do certain things, because that is how they were designed. With expense comes expectation, right? Hmmm… you know anyone whose parents spent a fortune for them to attend law school or medical school and then they disappointed their family by never practicing as a doctor or a lawyer because it wasn’t something they wanted to do with their life?

My current employer is a specialty fiscal intermediary that was founded in support of the Self Determination movement. We work closely the elderly and disabled, people who without in-home care and support would struggle to live independently in their own homes. The goal of the Self Determination movement, and the mission statement of my employer is to empower people to live a life of their own choosing. And I gotta say, it’s a whole new world to work for a company that actually does good.

I mention all of that because All Systems Red is the intersection of science fiction and self determination. Current #workgoals: get a bookshelf in my office, fill it with management, communication, leadership, and self determination books, and encourage my team to borrow any books that look interesting. Put multiple copies of All Systems Red on the bookshelf. Start Murderbot craze in my office building.

 

 

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7 Responses to "All Systems Red, by Martha Wells"

Is this pretty much a standalone? It sounds awesome, but I’m hesitant to put another ongoing series into my queue…

Liked by 1 person

Yes, it reads as a stand alone. I enjoyed it twice before I had any clue she’s planning to write more. And if you put it on the bottom of your TBR, by the time you get to it, the 2nd one might already be out.

What’s super nice about these novellas that Tor is putting out, is that if you do get sucked into a series, the novellas are so short you can catch up on everything you forgot from your first read through in about two hours.

Liked by 2 people

I’m so happy you loved this one too! 😀

Liked by 1 person

couldn’t get enough of it!! 😀

Liked by 1 person

Added to my reading list. Thanks!

Like

This sounds really neat! Just the word Murderbot is enough to intrigue me. 😀

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