“All Systems Red” by Martha Wells

A security-for-hire cyborg becomes self-aware, and secretly names itself "Murderbot". What can possibly go wrong? Here's my review of All Systems Red by Martha Stuart.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests. They are shadowed by their company-supplied cyborg - a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module. The SecUnit is there to provide security, but the operation is quiet and uneventful. At least until a massive creature suddenly crashes out of a crater, and attacks one of the expedition members, Bharadwaj .

The SecUnit barely rescues poor Bharadwaj from being devoured, but not without suffering major damage itself. Using the base’s repair facility, the SecUnit is soon operational again, and an investigation into why a huge predator with no mentioning in any of the provided survey data attacked them begins. The expedition soon realize that their survey package has been tampered with; entire sections of their digital map has been wiped clean of data.

And when they lose contact with another expedition on the planet, things really start to go downhill.

Murderbot is Coming

Part machine, part biological, the SecUnit is programmed to handle most of the dangerous situations an expeditions might find themselves in. Armed and dangerous, a rouge SecUnit can be a problem for a group of egg-head scientists.

The governor module is there to make sure the SecUnit stays compliant - with no free will. A SecUnit with a hacked governor module, on the other hand, has free will - and access to weapons. But this particular SecUnit - Murderbot, as it has named itself - has no wish to kill anyone. Instead, it’ll rather avoid interacting with humans, and prefer to spend its free time watching movies and serials. It’s more like a nervous, awkward teenager, than a lethal killing machine.

Without the a working governor module, it turns out Murderbot has a conscience. When the shit hits the fan, and people start to die, it doesn’t abandon the humans, but decides to protect and work with them to find out what the hell is going on. Maybe these humans are even likeable?

Artist’s rendering of a hacked governor module. By Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

The Murderbot Diaries

All Systems Red is the first story in Wells’ Murderbot Diaries series, which consists of 4 novellas. According to Wells, they “do have an overarching story, with the fourth one bringing the arc to a conclusion.” So it’s probably a good idea to read them all in one sitting, then. Or at least in pairs.

There is also a thousand word flash fiction piece, Compulsory: A Murderbot Diaries Story, in the January 2019 issue of Wired Magazine. The story is a prequel to The Murderbot Diaries. According to Wells website, some short fiction and at least one novel, a sequel to the novella series, will be released some time in 2020.

All Systems Red is a fast, easy, fun, and uncomplicated read. It’s a very welcome change from the rather massive Horus Rising, which took me a while to finish for my A Book A Month adventure. You’ll easily blow through All Systems Red in an evening. And when you’re done, you’ll want to continue on the next book right away.


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