All Systems Red by Martha Wells

A review of the first book of the Murderbot series

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells, is the opening novella of the Murderbot series. 

All Systems Red Summary

The novel has a familiar science fiction set up. A research party is stuck on a remote planet with a dangerous android when things start to go wrong.

The twist in All Systems Red is that it’s narrated by the dangerous android. The self-named Murderbot. Murderbot is a Security Unit (SecUnit), has hacked its Governor device and now has free will.

Murderbot is guarding a team of scientists on a mostly un-surveyed planet. However, the android has more interest in downloading and watching bad tv soap operas than actually doing its job. Only springing into action when the scientific teams’ lives are actually in danger.

Why You Should Read All Systems Red

Murderbot is the sole narrator of the story. Subsequently, we only get glimpses into the characters on the research team. This loss of insight into the wider characters has the benefit of focussing on Murderbot.

This pays off because Murderbot is such a unique character. For an android that has gained free will, Murderbot is remarkably jaded and snarky. The novel is less interested in Murderbot’s accession to sentience than the Android’s ability to forge connections with the humans its protecting.

This shows Martha Well’s ability to take a tired science fiction set-up, the ‘rights of an android’, and give it a unique twist. Just as she took the idea of ‘science team stranded on a sinister world’ and turned it on its head by telling the story from the point of view of the android.

The drama in All Systems Red is driven by both the problems the science team face and the scientific way they try and solve them. In an oblique way, the way the science team tried to think their way through their problems reminded me of Rendevous with Rama. Although not a hard science fiction novel, All Systems Red has that same problem-solving ethos at its core.

All Systems Red offers a first look at what promises to be an intriguing wider sci-fi world. A world with shady corporations, enslaved androids, augmented humans and an interesting political landscape.

Although not fully developed in All Systems Red, this world promises to be a fascinating background to the Murderbot series.

  • All Systems Red rating

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