Do Androids dream of electric sheep? Our half droid here sure loves TV series.
Gurathin hesitated. “It’s downloaded seven hundred hours of entertainment programming since we landed. Mostly serials. Mostly something called Sanctuary Moon.” He shook his head, dismissing it. “It’s probably using it to encode data for the company. It can’t be watching it, not in that volume; we’d notice.”
I snorted. He underestimated me.
Martha Wells ‘The Murderbot Diaries’ can be compared with Nnedi Okorafor‘s ‘Binti‘ in narrative style: first person accord through a marginalized character, in a serialized story, structured through novellas. I didn’t go well with ‘Binti’, but, ‘All Systems Red’ hit all the right spots. It was refreshingly short, minimal in execution, well fleshed and lively, despite its premise where, literally, all systems were red.
Protagonist is a security bot -half android and half human, like a cyborg, and from the story it can be inferred that this futuristic society has co existence of humans, bots and special purpose half bots. Interestingly and also a bit disturbingly, the murderbot is never assigned a gender or a name, and is almost treated as a property by the expedition team than an individual, thanks to the universal SecUnit armour that covers everything organic and metallic. Author doesn’t treat this as an existential problem, as the Murderbot itself is content with strict work interactions.
“SecUnit, do you have a name?”
I wasn’t sure what she wanted. “No.”
“It calls itself ‘Murderbot,’” Gurathin said.
I opened my eyes and looked at him; I couldn’t stop myself. From their expressions I knew everything I felt was showing on my face, and I hate that. I grated out, “That was private.”
The silence was longer this time.
As I progressed further in the story, I started to identify myself with the Meursault like SecUnit than its human companions. Its shy, prefers face and expressions hidden under visor, and escapes loneliness by watching television series. Murderbots have a governing module as per job purpose, and their decision making is strictly through game theory probabilities, but the organic parts make it constantly self aware during the process. Even now I am feeling a little discomfort in addressing Murderbot as Murderbot or it; turns out Shakespeare was wrong, there is a lot in a name.
Format of the story is reminiscent of classic tropes, where a bunch of diverse individuals have to make their way out of trouble through smartness and wit. Basically it is a science fiction adventure with some hard sci-fi and cyberpunk elements, like descriptions of expedition and alien environment, corporate contract control, elements of Westworld and Culture like the bio boasts etc. But, the perspective of narrative is worth mentioning, like the title suggests, reader is taken through the com logs and thoughts of Muderbot, which gives the whole thing a coming of age feel; and it is infact weird and amusing to discover oneself through the eyes of a ‘lower species’ like android/cyborg/synthezoid. It also subtly questions morality, existence, trust and friendship over human reluctance to escape from conventions of contemporary society.
I was more or less constantly reminded of Halo and Master Chief during the read. Anyway, this book is a prime example of how fun and uplifting reading could be, and I am more than eager to enter the next installment.