Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Book Review: All Systems Red

book cover for All Systems RedIn a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid—a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

As it says in the blurb, Murderbot hacked its governor module—for those not mechanically inclined, think of it as a choke collar. While it follows its orders so that it isn't discovered and risk getting scrapped, it has the freedom to ignore commands it doesn't want to carry out or just pretend to carry them out. It doesn't want to talk about its feelings or hang out with the human crew. It wants to spend as much free time as possible watching thousands of hours of entertainment media it downloaded. Introverts everywhere will identify with Murderbot and quite possibly want its weapons complement to keep pesky annoyances at bay.

The novella is told entirely from Murderbot's POV, but it is perceptive enough to gauge others' reactions to it. And the internal dialogue is full of plenty biting humor that I guffawed audibly several times, eliciting curious inquiries from my family.

Being part-organic, Murderbot isn't invincible either. Although the company has built them to be self-repairing, they are disposable to some extent. Murderbot's vulnerability is made obvious to the reader from the outset. But despite this, Murderbot doesn't hesitate to throw itself into danger. Is its programming overriding self-preservation, or does it actually have a smidge of empathy for the humans it's assigned to protect? That's up to the reader to figure out.

Highly enjoyable. 5 stars.


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