REVIEW: Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells
The New York Times bestselling security droid with a heart (though it wouldn’t admit it!) is back!
Having captured the hearts of readers across the globe (Annalee Newitz says it’s “one of the most humane portraits of a nonhuman I’ve ever read”) Murderbot has also established Martha Wells as one of the great SF writers of today.
No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.
When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?)
Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!
Dear Ms. Wells,
Well alrighty. Murderbot is back and as passive aggressive and snarky as ever as it attempts to do its job of protecting Dr. Mensah from the retribution from the evil GrayCris Corporation that everyone knows is coming. When a body is found on Preservation Station the security folks automatically side eye Murderbot because it’s a rogue SecUnit and a murderous killing machine. Except it can prove where it was at the time of the murder so it must be a GrayCris agent. Or is it?
Since no one trusts it or will give it access to the feed that it also promised not to hack (yes, it had to promise, no it didn’t want to but since it has, it will be good and not hack), Murderbot has to go about finding out who the murder victim was (which doesn’t take it that long) then how the dead body – okay, it’ll used the human preferred term “the deceased” – arrived at the station then figure out why that’s fucked up, too.
No, it’s not being an asshole or rubbing in how much faster it is at doing this. Not really.
As the investigation continues, Murderbot and everyone else soon realizes that there is something more going on than meets the eye. But what is it and who’s behind it?
Ostensibly Murderbot is there to guard Dr. Mensah but she’s also trying to craft a new occupation for a retired murderous SecUnit as well as establish how it will be viewed and – more importantly – treated from now on. Up until it came under her guardianship, it was a rented item which was viewed as expendable equipment – definitely not something that is afforded due process or has rights. The security and Port Authority people don’t want to work with it but it is very good at what it can do and at least some people in authority are finally willing to (reluctantly) take advantage of that.
So now Murderbot and the investigators begin the arduous (for them) and frustrating (for Murderbot because not being trusted and given full access is like tying one hand behind its back but only loosely because it can and does go about getting the job done albeit just more slowly) task of figuring out what the hell is going on.
Yippee there is snark and there is attitude because this is Murderbot. It still doesn’t like to interact with people much and relies on its drones to watch their faces so it doesn’t have to look them in the eyes. It likes its paranoia. It needs its paranoia. Reviews of snippets of stored media (still mainly “The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon”) are its fall back to trying to understand humans especially reading facial expressions. It also remarks on how humans tend to turn sentences into questions in order to make them sound less bad but the sentences still sound bad anyway. And there are actually a few it feels it can call on when it needs advice or back up.
By the time the dust settles, I feel that Murderbot has proved itself and its worth by using its skills and original purpose – as a security unit there to protect humans – instead of just mindlessly killing everything in its way. Yeah, less murdery makes the humans happier. There’s kick ass space wuxia (Murderbot style) and some grudging acceptance of its job well done. It also still uses its “stoney stare” when needed. The last page leaves me hopeful that perhaps we will see further contracts and adventures for it if “something weird happens.” But only something really weird because it needs time to watch all its hours of stored “Sanctuary Moon.” B
I’m looking forward to reading this! Thanks for your review, Jayne.
@Kareni: Wheeeeee – Murderbot!
I’ll be back to read/comment once I’ve finished. I love Murderbot.
@Darlynne: Love Murderbot but remember do not ask it how it feels. ☺
Just finished last night and “wheeeeee – Murderbot!” is right. I will never tire of these stories/books, especially when Murderbot has an emotion (but at least no one is watching). To me, this is not a quest to become more human, a la Data in TNG; this is someone who is trying to figure out who/what we are and who it is. The scenes where Murderbot can’t/doesn’t make eye contact or faces a wall when talking to someone feel so vulnerable, my heart almost breaks (not sure why). I could be stuck on a deserted island with these books and be most content.
@Darlynne: Oh, no I agree. Murderbot isn’t looking to become human. I think the thought would horrify it. I also think it still misses its face shield – a lot. I hope there is much, much more of Murderbot, Dr. Mensah, ART, and all the others.
Tor have contracted for 3 more Murderbot stories, according to an interview with Martha Wells.
@Helen B: Helen, you have made my day with this news!
@Darlynne & @Jayne: I think the best SF isn’t about a quest to become human but about what it means to be human (often explored through characters who aren’t human, or through characters who are no longer quite human, whether because of physiological changes or because of psychological/experiential ones). And I would put both Data and Murderbot in that “What does it mean to be human?” category.