Often when I make my way through books in a series, I grow increasingly fearful that the author will lose his or her mojo and let me down. No need to worry with Martha Wells! Her books in this series have been uniformly delightful.
The protagonist, who is part robot with organic parts, calls itself Murderbot, because of an incident in its past for which it wasn’t guilty, but the appellation stuck. In any event, Murderbot is a security robot, or SecUnit, designed to protect its human clients from any threats. But Murderbot has gone “rogue,” having hacked its controlling module, so that it now has free will. Murderbot would like nothing better than to spend its time watching all the space adventure series it has downloaded, but still can’t resist the pull to rescue humans from all the scrapes they continually get themselves into.
In this installment, Murderbot is on Preservation Station protecting Dr. Mensah, a former client whom Murderbot came to like and respect. Murderbot also, to its chagrin, made friends with Dr. Mensah’s colleagues.
As the story begins, a dead human is found on the station, which is quite unusual – as Murderbot wryly notes, to have a lower threat assessment than there is on Preservation Station, “we’d have to be on an uninhabited planet. I’ve never been on a contract on an uninhabited planet because if I was on the planet on a contract then we’d be inhabiting it.” Generally, Murderbot observed, Preservation was “a very non-murdery station.”
Dr. Mensah calls in Station Security headed by Senior Officer Indah and asks Murderbot to work with the group, pointing out it would be advantageous for Murderbot to gain their trust.
Murderbot, going just by the name “SecUnit” so as not to alarm the humans on Preservation Station, immediately has suspicions:
“It turns out the big danger to humans on any isolated corporate project, whether it’s mining or – okay, it’s mostly mining. Whatever – the big danger to humans is not raiders, angry human-eating fauna, or rogue SecUnits; it’s other humans.”
Indah was slow to trust a rogue SecUnit and, as Murderbot described it, “was all ‘but what if it takes over the station’s systems and kills everybody’”. . . . So Murderbot had to agree to two restrictions: not to access any non-public systems, and not to hack any other bots or drones. It was, as Murderbot said, “an uneasy truce.”
Murderbot gradually figures out what happened – more slowly than usual because of the initial restrictions on hacking – and eventually reaches a rapprochement with Indah.
There is less non-stop violence, action, and adventure than in previous books, but the story line behind what happened is more developed, and quite interesting. All of it is filtered through Murderbot’s dry sense of humor, sardonic wit, and constant existential angst.
Favorite passage: Dr. Mensah asks Murderbot to come over and join her and their friends: “We’ll do something fun.” Murderbot replies, “You know I don’t like fun.”
Evaluation: The humans in Murderbot’s life can’t help but come to love and appreciate this very odd SecUnit. Moreover, the desire to make sacrifices to save the other becomes mutual. The books are endearing, very humorous, and diverting in the extreme.
Published by Tordotcom Books, 2021