Title: All Systems Red
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1
Author(s): Martha Wells
Publisher: Tor.com/Tom Doherty Associates
Release Date: May 2nd 2017
Genre(s): Science Fiction
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆
Winner of the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novella, All Systems Red is one of those books that was impossible to ignore with its buzz being almost omnipresent since its release. The praise it was getting was unquestionable and its blurb alone had me hooked and utterly curious to find out what all the fuzz was about. Dying to try novellas again, this series seemed like the perfect re-entry point for me. I mean, how could anything go wrong with an android called a “Murderbot” being the main character? In the end, there’s no denying that this turned out to be addictive and engaging. The journey of this Murderbot is one that develops steadily with a satisfying balance between action and humour.
What exactly is All Systems Red about though? This is the story of a SecUnit tasked to protect a team of scientists on their expedition in dangerous fields. Unlike other androids, this one however hacked its governor module (the very component that allows humans to control them) and successfully got its hands on what we would call “free will”. Instead of turning rampant or escaping its faith as a SecUnit, this android has assigned itself the purpose of protecting its clients at all cost. Remaining inconspicuous among the team is however a struggle, but whenever it can, it will find ways to avoid contact and find peace in isolation. It’s when things go awry with another crew of scientists that this android and its clients find themselves looking for answers, but also pernicious trouble, with unknown danger staring right back at them.
For a first installment in The Murderbot Diaries series, All Systems Red does a comprehensive portrayal of artificial intelligence in ways that have rarely been conducted in the past. Instead of having a robot who wants to become human, we find ourselves in front of one that is human. Its personality is incredibly relatable and far more human than some of us could ever be, but this Murderbot only wishes to be left alone in its introverted lifestyle. Stuck trying to hide its true self from a crew of scientists who would never truly understand it, it finds satisfaction in accomplishing its role as a Company-supplied security android in order to stay away from any potential trouble that the knowledge of its free will would have upon it.
Interestingly enough, this Murderbot is never referred to as a male or a female throughout the story. While I saw it as a woman all along, I was far too often able to connect myself to its most deepest desires (i.e. being left alone to enjoy some space soap opera). Martha Wells’ writing style also proves to be impeccable in All Systems Red and effortlessly manages to give this android a voice of its own. Without the focus on its gender, she was able to bring the reader to explore subtler details that helped further accentuate the android’s peculiar situation in a world of humans that only sees things from their own selfish position.
All Systems Red is a fascinating novella that follows an introverted android in its quest to embrace its true-self while trying to respect its purposes as a Murderbot. What it will come to realize will however force it to embark on an adventure that it might not ever be ready for, as both its purpose and its rights as an android with free will are tested.
Thank you to Raincoast Books and Tor.com/Tom Doherty Associates for sending me a copy for review!