The Murderbot Diaries: a criminal future

Don’t you just love an addictive series? Especially when you discover one after all the episodes are published so you can read them flat-out, one after the other? I read the first novel in the entirely glorious Expanse saga when it first came out, so had to wait subjective centuries before the next volume appeared. Which of course meant that I’d forgotten much of the preceding book and needed to read it again, which in itself is frustrating because I remembered it as I read it, so there were no surprises. Happily enough, by the time I stumbled across Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries all six books were available.

I said ‘books’, but in fact they’re quite short, more novella than novel, if you see what I mean. And although they’re expensive, I bought each one with a happy smile, because they are very good.

Murderbot? What’s that, then? The story (it is all one story, spread across all six volumes) is narrated by the eponymous Murderbot, who / which is actually a SecUnit (you can work that out, I’m sure) with a dubious history. As well as that dubious history, the bot has a splendidly dry sense of humour, and many problems, mostly being associated with being both organic and inorganic. At some point in its unspecified but lengthy personal history, the bot has done Very Bad Things, one of which included reprogramming itself to operate independently. And as we steadily find out, this is often a mixed blessing.

Please do not get the impression that this is yet another saga of a robot which wants to be human. It doesn’t. Quite the opposite. What it actually wants – and talks about a lot – is to avoid humans as much as possible, while parking itself in a quiet place where it can watch endless entertainment feeds. That’s right. It finds solace in the relentless gush of episodic nonsense which infests the future world as much as this one.

And Martha Wells’ world is fully realised, with huge societies and vast commercial organisations running them. Several companies provide security for a price to other organisations, such as scientific research operations, and provide SecUnits to provide the cover. And of course there are endless other bots too; you meet more of them as the tale is told.

The books are not over-burdened with fake science; they just get on with telling the tale. The best characters are the various bots with their various levels of smarts (from very low to very remarkable), and the plot starts off simply enough: the humans in the science group that the narrating bot’s contracted to protect come under attack. It’s a betrayal. It’s also fairly unimportant, because the big theme is the Murderbot itself, which breaks free from its contractual shackles and investigates its own history, which revolves around those Very Bad Things it’s done in the past, which it can’t remember – its owners wiped its memory.

So the series is a great long entertaining quest. Some amusing characters, some fine narration, and plenty of excellent action. I’ve read the first four in the series in a row and have just bought the remaining pair. I’m signing off now, and may be some time…
8/10
Reviewed by Frank Westworth
The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells are available at Amazon

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Crisp wit from a clear-eyed killer:

Meet JJ Stoner: musician, motorcyclist – and murderer

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