Murderbot, the snarky, introverted cyborg hero of Martha Wells’ THE MURDERBOT DIARIES series, returns from its trip to Milu, the deserted terraforming facility in space. The cyborg Security Unit ― which has committed the unprecedented crime of hacking its “governor” that required it to obey orders ― was searching on Milu for additional evidence against the evil-ridden corporation GrayCris, as related in the third novella in this series, Rogue Protocol. Because of key evidence found on the Milu trip, Murderbot decides it needs to meet face-to-face with Dr. Mensah, who is technically Murderbot’s owner and possibly also its friend … though Murderbot would say it doesn’t “do” friendship.
Murderbot’s return to HaveRatton Station isn’t as straightforward or successful as it hoped. Station authorities have been alerted that there’s a rogue SecUnit on the loose, and security personnel are pulling out all the stops to capture or kill Murderbot. Worse, Mensah may be in serious trouble. News sources on HaveRatton state that she’s traveled to TranRollinHyfa, a major space station where GrayCris has its corporate headquarters, to answer GrayCris’s legal claim of corporate espionage against her. Now Mensah has disappeared and is presumably in the hands of GrayCris. Murderbot gets another chance to hone its talents at armed conflict and human rescue missions and, perhaps, at friendship as well.
Old friends and old enemies both make an appearance in Exit Strategy (2018), the fourth novella in THE MURDERBOT DIARIES series. Murderbot continues to develop as a personality, shedding part of its deeply ingrained introversion, but still reluctant to open the door to friendship. Mensah’s understanding of Murderbot’s fears both draw Murderbot to her and make it want to run away.
That she understood even that much made me melt. I hate that this happens, it makes me feel vulnerable. Maybe that was why I had been nervous about meeting Mensah again, and not all the other dumb reasons I had come up with. I hadn’t been afraid that she wasn’t my friend, I had been afraid that she was, and what it did to me.
It (Murderbot is never assigned a gender, and probably would be appalled at the thought) still frequently criticizes human stupidity, though it doesn’t even try to pretend to itself any more that it isn’t going to do whatever it can to help out people who need its assistance. It’s all delivered up in Murderbot’s hilariously sarcastic voice.
On the feed the human settled some details of what I was designating as Operation Not Actually A Completely Terrible Plan.
The first novella in this series, All Systems Red, won both the Nebula and Hugo awards, and the following novellas in this series have maintained its engaging combination of space opera adventure and Murderbot’s unique concerns about its self-identity and choices. Cyborg SecUnits are viewed as mere property by their developers, but Dr. Mensah and others have urged Murderbot to view itself as their friend and as an individual with independent rights and freedoms. Murderbot struggles with both views, and seeing that struggle play out is one of the appealing things about this series.
THE MURDERBOT DIARIES series has been a pleasure to read. The four novellas in this series range from about 150 to 175 pages each, so they go down quickly and easily, but they have some real substance along with the excitement and mayhem. I’m delighted that Wells is now planning to publish a full-length Murderbot novel. There can never be too much Murderbot in my life!
I love Murderbot! The audio editions are beginning to grow on me. I’m not sure if the narrator is getting better at interpreting Murderbot or if I’m just getting used to the way he does it. I’m starting to appreciate his interpretation, actually.
Ghosts are real, everybody, and Murderbot has encountered them. Exit Strategy isn’t the first time there’s been a casual mention of ghosts (or haunted stations), but Murderbot definitively says, “I like endless historical family drama serials, but in real life, ghosts are way more annoying,” and now I am consumed with the need to hear that story. Was it a haunted station? A haunted cargo ship? A haunted excavation site? A very special episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! with very special guest Murderbot helping Scoob and the gang track down old Mr. Withers in some sort of cosmic Mystery Machine? I need to know!
Oh, also, there’s a series of incredibly daring rescue plans (which, as happens for mice and Murderbots, aft gang agley) aboard HaveRatton Station, where Dr. Mensah is being held hostage by GrayCris in exchange for money, information about the unstoppable rogue SecUnit, and the truth about its alien artifact excavation history. There’s espionage, counter-espionage, hacking, shoot-em-ups, snark barely masking intense anxiety and depression, and a thrilling Heroic Last Stand against a Combat SecUnit, which might be the most terrifying thing I’ve seen Murderbot up against.
Were this truly where the MURDERBOT DIARIES end, I would say Martha Wells has done a masterful job of creating a story and protagonist that are compelling and relatable, with a supremely satisfying arc from beginning to end. Moreover, I have to applaud her for not writing yet another Pinocchio narrative; Murderbot explicitly says that it doesn’t want to become human, and thank goodness for that. I’m much more interested in seeing Murderbot become an optimized version of itself, whatever that entails.
But, happily, Exit Strategy isn’t the end of Murderbot’s story, which continues with the full-length novel Network Effect and a new novella, Fugitive Telemetry, currently due to be published in late April 2021. Huzzah!