Science Fiction can be a tough sell. Frank Herbert’s dark world of Dune, Neal Stephenson’s dystopian cyberpunk novels, or even popular shows like Star Trek. They go deep into morality, politics, and metaphorize modern issues in their rich vibrant, but unknown worlds. But then once in a while, you get a Douglas Adams with his The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or Andy Weir with his The Martian to bring a breath of fresh witty air to the genre. All Systems Red, the first of The Muderbot Diaries, is a breath of fresh air indeed. A short sweet witty breath that never goes away throughout the story.
My insides melted. That’s the only way I could describe it.
These were my exact thoughts after reading this tiny 100-page novella, and also a direct quote from the book. How often does a book have that one perfect sentence that makes you want to close the book and give it a tight hug?! That’s what I wanted to do, and that’s what I did.
A side note (and spoiler?), Muderbot has no gender, I would refer to it as “It” throughout this little review.
All Systems Red is a first-person diary entry of a security robot that called itself Muderbot. Martha Wells combined every Reddit meme about work, relationships and personal existential crisis into the internal monologue of a robot.
I consumed every internal thought of Muderbot like my Instagram feed. I wanted to bookmark and share pretty much each of Muderbot’s remark or observation. (You’ll see what I mean.) Martha Wells made a foreign futuristic world accessible to everyone; and just fun overall.
For a 100-page book, I don’t expect to be empathizing with more than a couple of characters. But All Systems Red exceeds my expectation. Muderbot, the pessimistic, self-serving, and sometimes murdering robot was (strangely) likable and relatable. But every other person in the cast played an important role and left a lasting impression on me. Dr. Mensah, Dr. Bharadwaj, Dr. Ratthi, and the rest just live on the page as beautifully as Muderbot does.
Without giving away spoilers, I can say that it is a diverse cast of personalities and genders that truly made an impact on the story and on me. I wanted to go on an adventure with the entire cast. Love, empathy and camaraderie were common traits of the cast that made such a short book a delight to read.
They were all so nice and it was just excruciating. I was never taking off the helmet again. I can’t do even the half-assed version of this stupid job if I have to talk to humans.
Well, maybe Muderbot doesn’t share all my feelings about the cast but it does agree that they were nice.
“All right,” she said, and looked at me for what objectively I knew was 2.4 seconds and subjectively about twenty excruciating minutes.
Martha Wells couldn’t have captured the voice of a sentient robot better than she did for Muderbot. Every internal monologue, expression, and dialogue made the robot more lifelike but still kept is mechanical enough so we don’t lose out on its robotic origins.
You may have noticed that when I do manage to care, I’m a pessimist.
Muderbot was constantly in existential dread. Unmotivated most of the time and sticking to only the necessary jobs it had to do. It wanted to binge-watch stuff instead of doing the work at its best. Something we must have felt one time or another in our lives and our work. That is one of the few instances where Muderbot becomes our friend.
We’re cheaply produced and we suck. Nobody would hire one of us for non-murdering purposes unless they had to.
The cynicism was exuberant and sometimes felt like my own internal monologue that always goes off when I am annoyed and unmotivated at work. Muderbot felt like a good friend to rant out my frustrations. I feel like it would have yelled, “Me too!” and “Tell me about it!” and “I know, right?!” at my every rant.
This is why I didn’t want to come. I’ve got four perfectly good humans here and I didn’t want them to get killed by whatever took out DeltFall. It’s not like I cared about them personally, but it would look bad on my record, and my record was already pretty terrible.
The Size of the Muderbot Universe
To reiterate, novellas are not the best in terms of worldbuilding as you cannot waste any time explaining the intricacies of the world, the science (or magic), and deep characters arcs. But the Murderbot world does an amazing job in showing the trailer for the current and upcoming stories. The political structure, science, and even ethics of the world were explored to a considerable extent that left you both satisfied and hungry for more story of Muderbot and her amazing team.
I am particularly intrigued by the hierarchical dynamics between bots and humans as well the various corporations running the world with their robots; synonymous with today’s service sector. You immediately latch on to this resemblance which then needs no further explanation as to how the world functions. When giant multiplanetary companies come into the picture, so do power-hungry governments.
It may seem quite obvious and predictable with the political structure, but the story is not about politics or economics; it is about a robot that kills but also loves rewatching television shows and is just about adequate at its job. That fact itself drives me to read the entire Muderbot series.
Thirsty for More
100 pages of the Muderbot Diaries is just not enough. I want to read every word from its life and hopefully, the series of Diaries is just as good as the first entry. Muderbot is more relatable as a character than most human characters you would get in Science Fiction. It runs away from emotions, it doesn’t care about its job, and it wants to watch 35,000 hours of visual entertainment than interact with anyone about its feelings.
Yes, talk to Murderbot about its feelings. The idea was so painful I dropped to 97 percent efficiency. I’d rather climb back into Hostile One’s mouth.
How can anybody not want more of Muderbot?!humorreadingscience fictionwitty