Review – All Systems Red

The Murderbot Diaries, Book 1

All Systems Red_Book Cover

Overview

Synopsis In the future, space is dominated by corporations. On a scientific survey mission, Murderbot is deployed to provide security. When events begin to unravel, Murderbot must make the choice to not be inconvenienced by a group of defenseless scientists.

Author Martha Wells
Publisher Tor.com
Genre Science Fiction

Length 144 pages

Release Date 2 May 2017

Science fiction often follows similar themes and formulas. It is very challenging, probably impossible, to find a truly original sci-fi story. Instead, many authors choose to embrace these common themes and add their own unique touch to them. Martha Wells did just that with a set of novellas called The Murderbot Diaries. These books are tight, concise, and quick reads. How did Wells add her own spin on a common formula, you ask? Let’s jump into the review and find out!

Content Guide

Violence: A fair amount of violence. Quite a bit of action violence involving weapons and guns. Characters get beat up badly and many perish. However, I would not say the violence is overly descriptive. I was never uncomfortable with it.

Sexual content: Very little. Minor flirting between two characters. Many of the characters are in polygamous and bi/homosexual relationships. The future is painted in a way that sexuality is no longer traditional in any sense.

Drug/alcohol use: Minor alcohol consumption.

Spiritual content: Some mention of religion but overall, very little.

Language/crude humor: There is some swearing during intense moments.

Other negative content: Despite human society being in the future, there is still deep distrust of people (or artificially aware robots) who are different. Racism continues to permeate elements of the interstellar community.

Positive themes: We see themes of people overcoming prejudice and selfish desires to help and protect each other as the narrative advances.

Review

Its interesting. I watch the fantasy/sci-fi space quite closely for new and interesting books on the market, or upcoming books on the horizon. Somehow, The Murderbot Diaries slipped past me until I heard about them on a Discord channel that I frequent to learn about new books. I decided to put the book on my “to read” list after I heard that they were humorous and entertaining. I picked it up on my Kindle a few months later, and I was blown away by how much I enjoyed it. This book was absolutely worth my time, and I think it is worth your time as well!

It follows the story of Murderbot and its (gender ambiguous because it’s a robot) job as a protective security unit for a group of scientists on an expedition. Murderbot is different than other security units. It hacked its own system and became self-aware but doesn’t want others to know. This way, no one can force Murderbot to become a slave to its own systems again.

As you might expect, the mission does not go as planned and stakes get higher for Murderbot and the scientists. They find themselves in many hectic, tense moments that Martha Wells writes flawlessly. I was genuinely sucked in at these points and found them incredibly engaging! The writing is strong, fun, and action-packed, but that is not all that this book offers…

A robot that looks like a spacesuit

All Systems Red is all humor…

I want to get this right out of the gates. This book is downright funny, and I found myself amused throughout the narrative. You see, Murderbot is incredibly disinterested in its mission. It does the job reluctantly because well… the mission gets in the way of Murderbot watching millions of TV shows! Also, Murderbot cannot fathom the idea of being in human company, and the awkwardness is absolutely hilarious. The humor and wit were incredibly well done.

Murderbot has extreme anxiety for being in human company, and while Wells writes it with humor, she never goes so far as to make anxiety seem like a joke. She adds lightheartedness to the awkward situations but never “makes fun” of Murderbot for being anxious. She walked a fine line there and did it well.

Let me give you a taste of what you are in for:

Confession time: I don’t actually know where we are…. I hadn’t looked at the maps yet and I’d barely looked at the survey package. In my defense, we’d been here twenty-two planetary days and I hadn’t had to do anything but stand around watching humans make scans or take samples of dirt, rocks, water, and leaves. The sense of urgency just wasn’t there. Also, you may have noticed, I don’t care.

The book is full of these witty moments and one-liners. If you are looking for something with some real humor, look no further than The Murderbot Diaries.

 

…Heart…

All Systems Red is not just a comedy; it’s full of heart. We see Murderbot and the scientists show real care for one another. Yes, some of them show robophobic (Is that a word? I don’t know, but I’ll use it.) tendencies, but we see a bond form between Murderbot and the humans in a really compelling way. I was actually blown away at how believable that bond formed in a short 144 page book. Well done, Martha Wells. Some authors need hundreds of pages to prove friendship to me, but you did it in under 200. That is truly impressive, and it shows her mastery of writing and directing a narrative.

One human in general shined through, and that was Dr. Mensah. She was a strong character who demonstrated real leadership and control during a very tense situation. I mean… she even earned Murderbot’s respect, who finds human interaction horrifying. Wells did a fantastic job building her character in a very short narrative that was mostly focused on Murderbot.

 

…Big themes…

I won’t deny, for a short novella, it explores some pretty notable themes, such as the growing power of private corporations. How do governments deal with organizations that are honestly… more powerful than a true governing body. This is one of those common themes I see in sci-fi, and Wells inserted her own unique humor and touch. However, I think that is the small fry theme compared to the one that these novellas ask… What makes a life? Murderbot became self-aware, but is a robot alive? Is it not? What amount of “life” dictates that one has a soul? Another common theme I see quite often in science fiction.

I think as Christians, we will have to be prepared to answer these questions. The “future” in science fiction is starting to look more like the present with each passing day. There will be a whole slew of questions that we as Christians will need to be prepared answer. I’m not suggesting AT ALL in this review that a robot who hacks its own systems and becomes self-aware has a soul, but complicated questions pertaining to life will only become more confusing as we move further into the 21st century. I don’t have an answer now, but we should all be ready for that day to come.

…and few flaws.

I won’t lie, I found few flaws in this book. My flaws really stem from the fact that it is a novella. Thus, I wouldn’t say they are true faults, but they are issues people may have with the book. The first is that I liked all the characters, but I honestly only wound up caring for two (Murderbot and Mensah) by the end. There was just no time to flesh out anyone else, which I understand. Also, the world was very interesting, but I learned little about it. Just enough to want more, which is a compliment to Wells. However, if a reader desires more world-building, then maybe they will get it in future Murderbot novellas.

Do I plan to read more novellas in The Murderbot Diaries?

Books in the Murderbot Diaries series

(This is something I plan to do in my reviews from now on. It’s my way of answering the question, “Did this book, series, or author earn my time and attention as reader to pick up another book?”)

Oh yes, absolutely! I will definitely be picking up more books in The Murderbot Diaries. They are novellas, so I don’t feel an urgency to read them all in rapid succession. On the other hand, they are short and tight, making for a great option between massive stories or series, especially for some light-hearted fun. I think what Wells did here was impressive. She took common sci-fi themes and put her own fun, light-hearted spin on them.

Positives

+ Murderbot
+ Humor
+ Strong action
+ Tight, quick read
+ Some very likable characters

Negatives

- Thin world-building
- Some shallow characters

The Bottom Line

If you like science fiction and stories with a lot of action and humor, then waste no time; go pick up All Systems Red. I guarantee you will not be disappointed by this novella.

 

Story/Plot 9

Writing 9.5

Editing 9

9.3

Mike Henry

Hailing from the quirky alien town of Roswell, NM, I became a Christian at the age of 16 and have been collecting comics and books for almost two decades. Got my degree from the University of New Mexico, which is also where I met my wonderful wife. Moved out to the east coast and decided to let a 130 lb dog live in my house named Goliath. My favorite superhero is Batman, closely followed by Spidey and Superman.

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