Review: “All Systems Red” by Martha Wells


Release Date: May 7, 2017
Publisher: Publishing
Series: Murderbot Diaries #1
Genre: Science Fiction, Space


In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.” (via Goodreads)


My Thoughts


If a great plot wasn’t enough to entice you, the diversity sure will. Murderbot doesn’t pay attention to differences between humans, but Martha Wells gives the reader enough to pick out little things – like how team leaders are more often than not women, defaulting away from common WASP surnames, etc.

What was most impressive about about All Systems Red (and, really, the whole series) is how Murderbot can be read as autistic, metaphorically speaking. I am not autistic, so I cannot speak from personal experience, but from what I’ve read from those who are on the spectrum, many of the things they deal with made appearances in All Systems Red. Murderbot is uncomfortable looking people in the eye, has trouble interpreting social cues and reading facial expressions, and prefers their routine. But importantly, neither Murderbot nor anyone else ever question the validity of Murderbot’s differences, and those who can do all the things Murderbot struggles with (i.e.: humans) automatically find ways to accommodate Murderbot’s needs, no pushback or complaining. The humans treat Murderbot like one of their own, and strive to make Murderbot comfortable without othering or putting the emotional labor on them.

Despite SecUnits being more or less sentient robots, it never feels like Martha Wells is saying autistic people are emotionless beings, a harmful representation I often see in media. Instead, Murderbot’s issues are unique to them and are part of their personality, just as how they learn to work around those issues to function in a social society.

As someone who deals with social anxiety, I also really related to Murderbot’s intense discomfort in social situations. I’m the kind of person who can happily be completely alone and not talk to another person for weeks. It’s so much easier to deal with people when you don’t actually have to deal with them. I like being around people, but I don’t always like participating – being a spectator is a lot easier. If I had Murderbot’s armor and opaque helmet, I’d want to spend all my time ensconced in it, too. Already my resting bitch face is a fearsome thing to behold and does a similar job of being so imposing that people avoid hassling me on the street.

There’s also an interpretation of Murderbot as enby/trans, but I’ll save that discussion for my review of Artificial Condition, where it’s dealt with more overtly.

This book, y’all. This book is so damn good. It’s fun, weird, cheeky, sarcastic, suspenseful, action-packed, and emotional. It’s a quick read, but not an easy one. There’s a lot to chew on here, and all of it is awesome.

I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.

Thanks to Publishing for sending me a review copy.

Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or get it from your public library.

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