Network Effect: Complex connections

Reposting to include Bill’s new review.

Network Effect by Martha Wells science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsNetwork Effect by Martha Wells

Network Effect by Martha Wells science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsMartha Wells’ Murderbot has been gathering enthusiastic fans (which would be certain to have Murderbot hiding behind its opaque armored faceplate), along with multiple Nebula, Hugo and other awards and nominations, as each of the first four novellas in the MURDERBOT DIARIES series has been published over the last three years. In Network Effect (2020), the first full-length novel in this series, Wells is able to explore a more complex plot and to more fully develop Murderbot’s character and its relationships with others.

Murderbot is now with Dr. Mensah and the other Preservation Station characters who Murderbot was protecting in the first book, All Systems Red, and the fourth, Exit Strategy. Preservation is an unusually liberal society in this universe, where single-minded, coldhearted corporate profit-making is the norm, and Mensah and her family and friends treat Murderbot, who they call “SecUnit,” as a person rather than as a possession. Mensah’s brother-in-law Thiago, however, is suspicious of Murderbot’s influence over Mensah, and Mensah’s adolescent daughter Amana considers Murderbot an annoyance, especially after it scared off someone she thought was a romantic interest (“Yes, it was hilarious”).

As Network Effect begins, Murderbot is accompanying Thiago, Amana and several others on a survey expedition of another planet. After surviving an encounter with pirates — where Murderbot gets a chance to flex its muscles and show its expertise as a security consultant — the group lifts off the planet to rejoin their base ship in space. Just after the base ship exits a wormhole on its return to Preservation Station, there’s another attack on their group. This one succeeds in capturing Murderbot and Amena in their spacesuits and pulling them onboard the raider ship. Murderbot is completely bewildered to discover that the ship that attacked them is its old friend ART (an acronym for “Asshole Research Transport”) from Artificial Condition. But ART, the powerful artificial intelligence that controls the ship Perihelion, is nowhere to be found once they’re onboard the ship. Instead there are gray-skinned hostile humans that immediately try to kill Murderbot. Now it’s on!

The bot and AI characters — Murderbot, ART, and a couple of new ones — are absolutely fantastic. Murderbot’s and ART’s friendship (though Murderbot would be really reluctant to call it a friendship) gets a lot more complicated and real, especially after Murderbot thinks ART has betrayed it. One of the subplots features sentient killware, a lethal kind of spyware/malware, which was one of the best parts of this book, fascinating and unexpectedly poignant. Murderbot takes some substantial steps forward in its self-understanding and in deciding what it wants to do with its life. The right of self-determination for all sentient intelligences is an ongoing theme in Network Effect.

In addition to Murderbot’s favorite human Dr. Mensah, a couple of other human characters start to stand out, including Mensah’s daughter Amena, who has a way of cutting through Murderbot’s protective shell. Wells has a degree in anthropology, which explains a lot about how well she writes the relationships and interactions between people and bots in this series. The title “Network Effect” has at least two different meanings: it’s a key aspect of the enemy Murderbot and its friends and allies face in this novel, but it also references the growing and changing ties between Murderbot and its human and non-human friends. Murderbot still hates the F-word — that would be “feelings” — and it likes to snark about humans’ stupid decisions, but it’s now willing to admit that it cares about people and actually enjoys helping and protecting them.

A little of the tension went out of her body. “Thank you.” Her face looked younger. She looked like she had been pretending to have hope and now she didn’t have to pretend anymore.

 

(Confession time: that moment, when the humans or augmented humans realize you’re really here to help them. I don’t hate that moment.)

Network Effect isn’t perfect: the pace lags in parts and the plot gets overly convoluted and confusing in the second half. One significant aspect of the key danger that the characters face doesn’t make sense to me logically. HIGHLIGHT TO REVEAL SPOILER: It’s an alien malicious code that needs to be passed from machine to humans to machines as it infects and takes over and controls you. No good reason is given for this odd quirk. [END SPOILER]

But the good parts of Network Effect are just SO good that they completely outweigh any plot weaknesses. One more example: There’s a bit with some “HelpMe.file” excerpts that Wells uses to good effect to relate some of the backstory. They’re initially a bit of a headscratcher, if only because of their odd headers, but when the payoff comes much later in the book, it’s a brilliant plot turn.

Murderbot — both the character and the series — has grown on me immensely with each book in the series. Murderbot may be a cyborg, but it’s one of the most human and appealing characters I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

~Tadiana JoneThe Murderbot Diaries s


Network Effect by Martha Wells science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsNot having read any of the previous entries in Martha Wells’ MURDERBOT DIARIES series, I wasn’t sure how well Network Effect would work as an entry point, but I’m pleased to be able to say that it holds up really well. Wells provides a good amount of backstory, with a myriad of tempting tidbits that only made me want to check out more of the series.

Murderbot itself is utterly fascinating, and the ongoing internal drama of its explorations into self-determination was as compelling as the overarching narrative concerning ART’s missing crew, grey-skinned humanoids, Murderbot’s humans, and various factions fighting over control of galactic expansion and terraforming. I chortled, I sniffled, I cheered, and I kept wishing Timestream Defenders Orion and Lineages of the Sun were real media to stream.

Obviously, I need to start over from the beginning, with All Systems Red, and will do so at the earliest possible chance.

~Jana Nyman


Network Effect by Martha Wells science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsReading Network Effect, I was delighted and baffled to see ART back. Delighted, because ART is a great character, like SecUnit. Baffled because… what the heck did ART do? Eventually, everything is made clear.

I enjoyed watching SecUnit’s community grow, not only with human allies (SecUnit adds few in this book) but with machine intelligences as well. The genuine political differences between the Corporate Rim and Preservation are explored here, without stifling the increasing tension. It’s always fun to watch Wells unfold the various human reactions to SecUnit, from Thiago, who inherently distrusts it, to Amena, the teenager who trusts SecUnit implicitly but views it as a shackling buzzkill, a granny-unit instead of a Security Unit, as it were.

While raising important and disturbing  questions about corporatism and personhood, Wells also delivers an intriguing fun-filled adventure told in a distinctive, funny and engaging narrative voice. Thoroughly enjoyable.

~Marion Deeds


Network Effect by Martha Wells science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsI love Murderbot. This is another great story. If you haven’t tried them, the audiobooks are really good.

~Kat Hooper


Network Effect by Martha Wells science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsIf you’ve read THE MURDERBOT DIARIES by Martha Wells, then you know the only thing better than Murderbot is more Murderbot, and thus the only thing better than a MURDERBOT novella would be a MURDERBOT novel. Which is just what Wells gives us in Network Effect and while the expansion doesn’t come without some issues, I for one couldn’t be happier.

After the events of the prior novella, Murderbot has joined a team of planetary surveyors from the Preservation Station (I’m going to assume you know the background to this universe), including several members of Murderbot’s original team as well as Amena, the daughter of Murderbot’s closest human friend Dr. Mensah. The story opens with a bang as the group is under attack and, as usual, Murderbot has to rescue “the stupid humans.”

The successful rescue is followed by only a brief period of peace, as in shockingly short order Murderbot and Amena find themselves abducted and fighting for their lives on board the ship that formerly housed Murderbot’s old AI buddy ART (Asshole Research Transport), who seems to have been murdered by their captors. The story eventually broadens beyond the running battle aboard the ship and throws a lot at the reader: space raiders, possible aliens, dangerous ancient alien artifacts, a lost space colony, hostage situations, self-replication, corporate skullduggery, grief, trauma, more desperate rescue missions, and the age-old question of why adults don’t murder their own adolescents.

It’s a lot, as noted, and if there’s a weakness to Network Effect it’s that the expansion from novella to novel maybe added a bit too much extra material and that the extra material also comes with some pacing issues. But honestly, that’s a minor quibble as that one weakness is more than made up for by a host of other elements, such as Wells’ deft hand at action scenes, the way she seamlessly and concisely brings in more serious aspects of the corporate dystopia that runs much of this world (something aided by how this is Amena’s first exposure to that dystopia and so she gets to act as the appalled stand-in for the reader), her meta use of media, and her sharp, vivid characterization across all the characters, human and non-human.

But as usual, the two stand-out elements are Murderbot itself and their (Wells’) desert-dry and oh-so-funny sense of humor. Murderbot’s characterization is rich and multi-faceted. It continues its ongoing journey toward a sense of self and a sense of place within the human community and, to a lesser extent, the bot community. Lesser only in the sense that there are fewer bots and unlike with the humans we have yet to really get a sense of them as a collective community; Murderbot’s AI relationships are certainly no less important or intensely emotional — just the opposite.

All of this navigation of interactions is tinged by Murderbot’s ongoing effects from trauma, a storyline nicely mirrored by Dr. Mensah’s own attempts to deal with the aftermath of trauma as well. Just as it takes Murderbot to tell Mensah she isn’t dealing with it so great, it takes an outside — in this case Amena — to make evident to Murderbot that it is suffering from trauma and grief (long-held from his past actions and newly-formed from the seeming demise of ART) and that this is affecting its decision-making. Wells is wonderful at being able to shift so smoothly and effortlessly between humor (the scene where Murderbot breaks up a possible hook-up is laugh out loud funny) and poignancy, and neither is achieved cheaply.

Murderbot is one of the most endearing characters in contemporary fiction, and that characterization is wonderfully meshed with a pitch-perfect voice. And while each story save this one is relatively brief, one has a sense that both the plot and character are building toward something larger: a full sense of self-awareness and community for Murderbot and (one hopes) a comeuppance for the horrifically cruel nature of the Corporate Rim, which is revealed in ever more detail just as we’re also given more and more glimpses of abhorrence of and resistance to that cruelty. I can’t wait for the next installment.

~Bill Capossere

Published in May 2020. Martha Wells’ New York Times and USA Today bestselling Murderbot series exploded onto the scene in 2017, and the world has not been the same, since. Murderbot returns in its highly-anticipated, first, full-length standalone novel, Network Effect.  You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you’re a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you’re Murderbot. Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century. I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90 plus percent of my problems are. When Murderbot’s human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action. Drastic action it is, then.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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3 comments

  1. I love this series and have this loaded on my ipad just waiting to read. Can’t wait!! Such and interesting series.

  2. I’m so much in love with this series. I want as many books as possible in this world. Eagerly waiting for the next one – Fugitive Telemetry. Although it’s not as long as Network Effect.

    I’ve written a book review on my blog of Network Effect. You can check it out – https://www.jaydeepparmar.in/2020/06/network-effect-by-martha-wells-book.html

  3. Paula /

    I loved this book. Exciting. You must read
    Ghostsfromthenorthcleightonmacgregor

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