All Systems Red tells the story of a semi-organic security bot protecting a group of humans who are exploring a planet. The SecUnit, who calls itself a “Murderbot” (due to its own unfortunate backstory) has hacked its own system so that it can act independently and not suffer punishments. Most of its independent action consists of watching hours and hours of soap operas on its entertainment feed and trying to avoid interactions with humans. But when a mysterious force threatens the humans, Murderbot reluctantly goes to help save the day.
I loved the first-person voice of the Murderbot. It is snarky and funny, but also touching in its discomfort and other-ness. Over and over again the Murderbot insists it does not care, wants to be left alone, etc., and yet its actions speak to how much it values the humans it sees as its duty. The fact that Murderbot changes over the course of the story and makes a big decision for itself at the end speaks to its true character.
Wells uses the Murderbot to discuss identity, consciousness, and the definition of humanity, all wrapped up in a neat sci-fi adventure story with a complex and interesting central character. Her world-building is subtle and puts you right in the middle of the action, without a lot of exposition.
This novella is the first in The Murderbot Diaries series, and I’m really looking forward to the next one!