You probably think you’ve heard this one before: a cyborg is attached to a mission of explorers on a distant planet, and the cyborg has detached itself from the governor that’s supposed to make it an obedient servant of the corporation that’s supplied the expedition, and there’s something not quite right about the expedition and the planet. Sounds like the plot of many science fiction movies and stories, right?
That’s sort of the premise of Martha Wells’ All Systems Red, but I can assure you, you have NOT seen this story before, certainly not with these characters.
All Systems Red is narrated by the self-named Murderbot, the self-aware cyborg that was originally supposed to be a security bot with (as it notes) limited education and controls from the Central Hub that keep it behaving in appropriate ways. Murderbot has, before the beginning of the novella, hacked into the controls and disabled its governor, unbeknownst to the people for whom it’s supposed to be working.
However, Murderbot doesn’t particularly want to destroy the humans it’s working with. It mostly wants to do its job, or the least amount of its job it can possibly get away with (which means not reading all the introductory information sent to it explaining what this mission is all about), keeping away from awkward interactions with humans, and absorbing as much of the downloaded entertainment it can (it is very fond of a particular serial, which seems to have hundreds of episodes and is a sort of soap opera in space). Is that too much to ask?
Well, apparently so, because it turns out that there’s danger afoot on the planet, and Murderbot has an obligation to keep its humans alive. Not, it would assure the reader, because it cares about those humans, but because otherwise it would get into more trouble if it let them go and get killed.
This is a novella, not a full-scale novel, so (a) it’s a really quick read, and (b) there isn’t as much world-building and character development as you’d be able to get in a novel. However, Murderbot is such a great narrator, funny in a dry way and sweetly awkward around humans (and the humans it’s with are, for the most part, lovable in their own ways as well), the book is a great read, and I was delighted to see that this is going to be the first in a series. I, for one, will look forward to spending more time with Murderbot and whatever other humans it finds itself with.