He, she, or it, the star of the Murderbot series, doesn’t appear to be gendered. We’ll use the pronoun “it” to be safe, as Martha Wells does. It calls itself Murderbot. It’s a half-human-, half-robot Security Unit, or SecUnit. But Murderbot is an apt name. Because this particular bot is a rogue, having hacked its governor module and taken command of its destiny. And, yes, it has killed humans. Lots of them. It refers to the episode as “my mass murder incident.”
But don’t think Murderbot is a mindless killing machine. In fact, it’s a lot more human than most of the people it meets. All those dead humans richly deserved their fate. And at another time and place, Murderbot might well be expected to be kind to children and furry little animals. There’s a soft space in its heart for a certain woman named Dr. Mensah, who once owned it. And, frankly, murder is the last thing on its mind most of the time. All it really wants to do is watch soap operas. (Well, they don’t call them that in Murderbot’s day. But we know that’s what they are.)
Exit Strategy (Murderbot Diaries #4) by Martha Wells (2018) 163 pages ★★★★☆
Evil corporate overlords and kindly Dr. Mensah
In the Murderbot series, the human race has colonized a vast swath of the galaxy. Within the Corporate Rim, faceless corporations compete with ruthless efficiency, sending armies of augmented humans and bots into battle with orders to kill as necessary. Further out on the fringes of occupied space, lie other communities. Some flourish, others struggle. And among those worlds are the planets of Preservation Space, where Dr. Mensah holds the top elected office. But like so many others, she is at the mercy of the corporations. And one evil enterprise called GrayCris is out to get her.
In the first three books of this series, Murderbot has been gathering evidence against GrayCris for Dr. Mensah to take to court. And Murderbot has gained possession of the smoking gun, so to speak. But now, in the fourth book, the tables have turned. GrayCris has abducted the good doctor and her closest aides and imprisoned them in its headquarters. The ransom they demand is for Dr. Mensah to cease and desist in her campaign to prosecute GrayCris. Naturally, against monumental odds, Murderbot must now rescue Dr. Mensah and her companions. This will be the greatest test it has ever faced.
“Thinking about killing a bunch of humans”
Oh, yes, there will be battle scenes in this story, and lots of death again. But don’t take it seriously. Wells writes these novellas with tongue firmly lodged in cheek. And that’s evident from the opening sentences: “When I got back to HaveRatton Station, a bunch of humans tried to kill me. Considering how much I’d been thinking about killing a bunch of humans, it was only fair.” And the tale unfolds in this vein throughout.
Here, for example, is Murderbot musing—it does a lot of musing—about how awkward it felt pretending to be human. “How humans decide what to do with their arms on a second-by-second basis, I still have no idea.” And, later: “I was having an emotion, and I hate that. I’d rather have safe emotions about shows on the entertainment media; having them about things real-life humans said and did just led to stupid decisions.”
It’s all a lot of fun. Little wonder that the Murderbot series has garnered the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards.
About the author
Martha Wells‘ first effort in science fiction and fantasy appeared in 1993. Since then, she has written a total of twenty-two other novels and two short story and novella collections. The Murderbot Diaries have won her a wide audience and garnered a passel of awards in the genre. All told, she has has won two Nebula Awards, two Locus Awards, and two Hugo Awards. She was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1964 and earned a degree in anthropology from Texas A&M University. She and her husband live in College Station, Texas.
For more reading
I’ve reviewed the three previous Murderbot Diaries and the following one here:
- All Systems Red (A reminder that technology doesn’t always work well in the future, either)
- Artificial Condition (Far away and long in the future, an augmented human designed to kill)
- Rogue Protocol (Sci-fi’s favorite antisocial A.I. surfaces again in the Murderbot Diaries)
- Network Effect (A huge disappointment in the Murderbot series)
For more good reading, check out:
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus 100 runners-up)
- The five best First Contact novels
- Seven new science fiction authors worth reading
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others)
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.