Everyone was all excited about All Systems Red before it came out, but I'd never read any Martha Wells before, so I couldn't figure out what it was by a pretty straighforward-looking "cyborg soldier protects people" story that had all my bloggers quivering with anticipation. But hey, I put it on reserve and waited and waited and waited and the reviews kept coming and finally I gave up on the waiting and bought the darned thing and read it and OH MY LORD was it good.
(Note for the record: me buying a book and reading it in the same month is, like, unheard of.)
Our surveying party is investigating a new planet to investigate whether it's worth it to buy the rights to its natural resources. They've been outfitted for the mission by the Company, which does such things--habitats, scientific equipment, life support, transportation, and a SecUnit, a security bot, who is our narrator. It calls itself murderbot; it doesn't have a name.
The SecUnit isn't typical; its governor drive, which is supposed to control its behavior and prevent anything unauthorized, has been hacked. Murderbot hacked the drive itself, but mostly nothing's changed--it goes on missions, takes care of its people, and just wants to be left alone to watch the entertainment that it's downloaded--mostly serial dramas.
But something's gone wrong with the other outpost on the planet, and it looks like someone might have it in for our team. Murderbot's gotten kind of fond of this team (OH MY GOD SO HAVE I) and they have to work together to figure out what's going on.
Okay, so this is kind of perfect. The thing that's so great is our protagonist's voice, which is kind of sardonic and kind of wistful and incredibly natural. It's observant and smart and competent, but also laid back and funny and reserved. This is what everyone's been talking about, and no doubt, it made the story.
But what doesn't get enough credit is the story itself, which serves as a setting for the character to unfold. The book is a novella, which means it's pretty short, and pacing can be tricky here--you can't have too many twists and turns. But the fact is, the "what's going on on this planet?" mystery is, well, not a MacGuffin, because we are very concerned with how it will turn out and it is definitely life or death. But it's the perfectly paced and structured opportunity for these characters to unfold. Any slower, lingering on the characters, and it would get sentimental. Any faster and it would be Dan Brownish. Instead, you get the perfect balance.
We get to watch Murderbot spend more time reluctantly with the crew, and to meet the crew themselves. We get to know Mensah, who is just a model of great leadership (and to learn why), and Ratthi, who is sweet and maybe sometimes spacey, and Pin-Lee, who is more competent than a robot in a lot of ways, and just all of them. They are likeable. And then you have Murderbot, who basically has severe social anxiety, but who's still fond of these people. As things get darker and more real, the bonds they're forging get stronger, in spite of all the differences.
Honestly, as an extrovert surrounded by introverts, watching the crew interact with Murderbot was just so poignant. They try, and then they try to try the right way, but it doesn't feel right, and they slip, and it's just so damned sweet and funny and I loved every minute of it.
Lianna, I'm sorry, I know your list is full. But you have no choice; you have to read this one.