“You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you’re a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you’re Murderbot.
Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century.”
Murderbot is back! In the first (and hopefully not last) full-length novel of the series, Martha Wells does what she does best. All the thrills, action, and high-stakes adventure of the novellas is on display in the novel. Not once does it feel overstuffed or stretched out. She takes everything we love about our killer AI Security Unit and gives us a whole lot more.
Nominally (although not legally) free, SecUnit – aka Murderbot – has been living with Dr. Mensah and her sprawling family on Preservation Station, catching up on media and isolating from everyone. The fallout from the attack on Mensah’s life in Exit Strategy drives a wedge between her and her family, which eventually puts SecUnit on a ship with Mensah’s sixteen year old daughter Amena, Amena’s uncle Thiago, and a few other Preservationists. Their survey plans are crushed when their ship is attacked by strange-looking humanoid adversaries and what may or may not be ART, the wise-cracking hardass of a transport ship that Murderbot encountered a few books back. Like the books in the rest of the series, there are chaotic battles, corporate scheming, betrayals and mind-games, panicking humans, and way more going on than meets the eye.
Between all the fisticuffs and bloodshed is a thick layer of critique of capitalism. As just about any BIPOC will tell you, capitalism isn’t just an economic system, it’s a way of life. Capitalistic tenants pop up in everything: education, housing, agriculture, labor, race relations, gender stereotypes, romantic and sexual relationships, family, entertainment, social status, and on and on. You name it, capitalism has it’s sticky fingers all over it. Network Effect plays with a futuristic version of capitalism, but corporate greed and the willingness to exploit workers for maximum profit is just as powerful in the wilds of space as it is in the good ol’ US of A. Murderbot is the distillation of capitalism – a sentient, enslaved android whose sole purpose is to protect the company even at cost to itself – and, by hacking its governor module and living “free” on Preservation, a refutation of it. Powerful, nuanced stuff from Wells.
Will there be a sixth Murderbot book? Who knows. I hope so, but if it was then it was a hell of a ride. Fun, wild, and just enough science to keep the sci-fi fanatics happy, Network Effect is a must read.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy.