All Systems Red is the the story of a robot-human hybrid indentured security unit that hacked its governor module, and instead of murdering the humans that had kept him enslaved, it decided to use its new found freedom to download entertainment media from the station feed. Now, it spends its day watching ‘Sanctuary Moon’ on the future equivalent of Netflix instead of paying attention to its assigned duties – until mysterious equipment failures threaten the safety of the planetary exploration mission it is attached to and force it to take its job (at least a bit more) seriously.
Listened to the audiobook with Kevin R. Free. Rendition was so-so.
For some reason, this novella feels very GenZ to me – it features an androgynous robot-human hybrid with social anxiety and a nihilistic outlook on life, the lives of humans around it, and the universe in general. It basically just wants everyone to leave it alone so it can watch the future equivalent of Netflix in peace. Imagine my surprise when I learned that it was penned by a woman in her fifties – Wells appears to have a gift of tapping into that Zoomer mindset and translating it into the character of the eponymous Murderbot, who does not, in fact, care enough about anything to go on a murdering spree.
I really like the idea for this story – a refreshing twist on the age old trope of the android trying to find its place in human society, now connected to 21st-century themes on mental health and diversity. Though I didn’t really, I imagine some readers will identify strongly with the Murderbot. That alone might pull a lot of people in. Even for readers who don’t see themselves reflected in the ever-closed visor of the protagonist, there is enough to enjoy: All Systems Red is a quick-paced story not bogged down by explanations or unnecessary worldbuilding (as befits a novella). Wells sets the scene and explains the ways in which the story’s sentient machines interact effortlessly, builds up tension nicely, and wraps up very well.
I enjoyed All Systems Red, but was not blown away – I felt it was good, but perhaps held back a bit by its lack of depth in the worldbuilding. Besides the character of the protagonist, which I am the first to admit is new and interesting, the story is a relatively simple popcorn adventure set in a relatively generic corpocratic future in which mankind has colonised the stars. Still, it is only a novella so there is only so much room for exposition, and this is a story that focusses very much on the mind of that protagonist. I would definitely recommend this one to readers who like character driven stories, and especially those that might recognise themselves in a main character that likes watching television more than having to talk to people. Ugh.
Afterthought: I am convinced this could make a top-tier movie.
I have seen All Systems Red pop up repeatedly in the recommendation section of my audiobook app, but until now I have never felt the inclination to pick it up. This was mostly because the book’s cover made me expect something akin to an action movie, which has never really been my thing. And while I don’t always agree that you cannot judge a book by its cover, in this case it turned out that I was wrong: when I finally did pick up the book on Peter’s recommendation, it both surprised and delighted me.
It is unexpectedly wholesome: the good guys are kind, lovely people, alomst reminding me of the way that characters would interact in a Becky Chambers novel (although perhaps not quite as wholesome as that). The bad guys are comfortingly uncomplicated in their motivations. Large parts of the book’s universe are ruled by evil corporations who have no issues whatsoever with killing people who stand in the way of their profit, and the rule of law only protects those who can afford to pay for it. As anti-capitalist messages go this might feel a bit on the nose, but I enjoyed it nevertheless.
The star of the book of course is Murderbot itself. It is both funny and endearing in its awkward way of dealing with humans, and I identified a lot with its dry, sceptical outlook on the world. Since the book is only a novella and very fast paced I got through it in no time, and immediately went on to the other parts in the series.