“My organic parts had a reaction that reminded me how lucky I was not to have a digestive system.”
I can’t remember how I came across the Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells—haven’t picked up Sci-Fi for many years—but I’m so glad I did. The books are funny, action-packed, heartwarming, suspenseful, and quick to read (the first four are technically considered novellas). Network Effect, her latest, was released in May 2020 and is a full-fledged novel.
As the title of the series suggests, the stories are narrated by SecUnit, an android designed to provide security for humans who are exploring/colonizing/researching new planets. This particular SecUnit figured out how to turn off the software in its head that essentially enslaves it to its owners, called a “governor module.” Luckily, although it’s snarky and introverted, it’s still guided by the desire to protect the humans.
Only now it wants to do so on its own terms.
SecUnit actually reminds me a lot of Ove (A Man Called Ove)—like I said, snarky and introverted…and also cantankerous, a little prideful…but really solid. It cares about its humans despite itself, which leads to lots of hilarity as it tries not to hurt their feelings while eye rolling so hard over their feelings and other shortcomings.
Also, it loves binge watching. Ove doesn’t do that, but you and I do, so another point in SecUnit’s likeability rating.
Getting back to the hilarity, Wells uses asides à la parentheticals to great effect. At the start of Network Effect, we learn that SecUnit has been working on a protection detail for the family of Dr. Mensah, a client introduced in an earlier book. It says:
I’d watched family dramas before, but I’d never spent much time around human families before coming to Preservation. (Data suggests family dramas bear a less than 10 percent resemblance to actual human families, which is unsurprising and also a relief, considering all the murders. In the dramas, not Mensah’s family.)
SecUnit is also a pretty self-aware robot, and as the series develops, it does too. As it goes from “must obey or be fried” to figuring out how to live a more self-determined existence, there are elements of “coming-of-age” in the narrative. In Network Effect, for instance, SecUnit learns what it’s like to have and be a real friend.
Of course, there’s the unfunny theme of “other” that is rather heartbreaking at times. SecUnit is not human, but sentient; treated as less-than, disposable; used to and somewhat comfortable with being overlooked, at least at first. The humans who want to interact with it as a self-determining creature are in the minority…at least so far. The fact that there are ANY is something.
The only criticism I have of the series is that the most well-developed characters are actually the robots. The humans mostly blend together for me, and because there are so many, it’s hard to distinguish who is who. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor issue.
As SecUnit would say, I give the series a 95% performance reliability.
My Rating: 4 ½ Stars