REVIEW: Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries, Book 5) by Martha Wells
Murderbot returns in its highly-anticipated, first, full-length standalone novel, Network Effect.
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.
I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90 plus percent of my problems are.
When Murderbot’s human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.
Drastic action it is, then.
Dear Ms. Wells,
Well, here it is. The Murderbot novel we’ve all been waiting for. Our favorite sarcastic SecUnit is back and being as snarky as ever it was. To say I’d been eagerly waiting would be an understatement. To say I was initially not sure how well this novel was going to work for me would be a regrettable statement but true. Yes, I spent the first roughly 50 pages feeling simultaneously overwhelmed. slightly lost but also a bit annoyed. Whoa, where did that come from?
Many of the past characters from the four Murderbot novellas are here again plus new characters are introduced. And once again as in “All Systems Red,” the action begins in media res. But whereas in that story, after the initial wham bam start, things slowed down a bit and some gentle backstory and world building was done, here we got tossed in I-still-don’t-know-what then suddenly there’s what turned out to be a little bit of a set up for one of the new characters and a tiny bit of catch up between Murderbot and Dr. Mensah. Those slower parts were WTH for me. From an action sequence that made little sense to some draggy scenes that seemed random. Plus since Murderbot is, as usual, telling the story in first person, we’re in its head (a lot) with way too many parentheses and an overload of snark. I felt as if I were drowning yet at the same time spending a lot of time trying to concentrate and determine what direction was “up.”
I had started the book late in the evening and went to bed feeling slightly sick that Murderbot wasn’t working for me. Heresy I know but I woke up thinking, another chapter and either it works or I will stop. Thankfully the story kicked into gear, grabbed me and off we went.
The plot is far too involved to attempt to describe without giving away spoilers. Once things accelerated, I just wanted to read it and be surprised so I’ll try and keep it that way. This is not, I repeat NOT the place to start in this series. New readers will be hopelessly lost. Sorry to say but get thee back and read at least the first and last novellas. There is action and adventure, new teammates and old for Murderbot to interact with. As in the past, do not call them friends, do not ask Murderbot about its feelings, and do not touch! Murderbot still doesn’t like the “f” word (and no it’s not f*ck) and it still tears through media including a few new series though Sanctuary Moon remains a comfort watch.
The baddies from GrayCris and the Corporation Rim are just a warm up for what is in store for Murderbot to deal with this time. As I read about contaminated feeds I couldn’t help thinking of all the hacks going on in our computer world today. Yeah, it doesn’t look as if things will get better in the future. Murderbot is still finding its footing as a rogue SecUnit with autonomy and fending off questions from its humans about “how it’s doing” (it doesn’t know what to answer and the question makes it feel uncomfortable).
The thoughts and reactions to some of its Preservation humans about the practices and treatments standard for human/SecUnit interactions (they’re horrified that SecUnits are viewed as disposable and merely “equipment” rented for a job that can be abandoned if needed), continue the pathway begun in the last novella about self identity and self determination that Murderbot still finds startling at times. The finale of the story makes Murderbot “have a moment” and need to stop talking for a while because it’s … a lot for it.
I’m glad I kept going but honestly feel that some of the intro parts of the novel might have been pared down or incorporated some other way. There was also a section late in the story where there’s a lot of detail loaded on board (every crack in every wall, every bit of abandoned machinery, every burned out light) that honestly I would have liked to skim. But the discussions of SecUnits and autonomy and watching Murderbot come more into its own – officially and not hiding behind its armor helmet – were rewarding and time well spent. I also liked the fact that the humans Murderbot deals with are diverse and that this is treated as status quo, totally normal, just the way it is and standard. And yeah the last scene of two “not friends” watching a new, even more unrealistic series than Sanctuary Moon was a great ending. Now to just wait for next year’s Book 6. B/B-