Catherine's Pick: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

The first in a series about an artificial construct designed as a Security Unit, which manages to override its governor unit, thus enabling it to develop independence.

To understand the narrator of All Systems Red, the first novella in The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, first picture an interstellar civilization in which RoboCop has become a commodity product, made out of stock mechanical parts and cloned human tissue and rented out by large security corporations. Now imagine that one of these Security Units, more commonly called SecUnits, hacked the electronic part of its brain that forced it to follow commands. Sounds like the beginning of a horror story? That’s what most of the humans in this universe expect. Muderbot, however, discovered the entertainment feeds carried on the company satellites. It has now consumed about 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music in between doing its job the same as it did before without the hack being detected. Turns out a being designed from the ground up to protect people likes protecting people. Who would have thought? Though it does get grumpy when the people it’s protecting ignore it when it gives them security recommendations, which happens often.

All Systems Red takes place during a planetary mission where Murderbot, as it calls itself due to an incident in its past that the company has largely wiped from its memory, is the lone SecUnit assigned to protect a team of scientists from an independent system conducting surface tests. Things get a little awkward after the team sees it without its helmet for the first time. It is hard for them to not treat something with a face like a person, and MuRderbot is not used to being treated like a person, more like equipment to shoot things and to interface verbally with the security systems SecUnits are networked to. Then, things get dangerous when the team starts investigating areas missing from their maps and their communication with another team on the planet goes dark. Murderbot is starting to like these humans, and these, for the first time, are humans who don’t see it as a disposable piece of security equipment.

Being a novella, All Systems Red is a quick read. That said, I ended up spending a week getting behind on things at home because I was plowing through all six books currently released in The Murderbot Diaries series. Murderbot is an awkward grump and media nerd who just wants to do its job, keep its humans safe, watch its favorite serials, and not get its brain wiped again. Is that so much to ask? In interstellar space controlled by corporations, many think that it is. The combination makes for a fun narrator and gripping sci-fi storytelling. This is a must read for fans of Ann Leckie, Becky Chambers, Andy Weir, and Tamsyn Muir.

Availability: Audiobook in Hoopla

Rating: **** Stars (I really liked it)

Reviewer: Catherine, Cataloging Librarian




All Systems Red

GENRE: Adult Books for Young Adults; First Person Narratives; Science Fiction

THEME: Robots with Emotions (Not only could these robots pass the Turing test, they have become as human as humans - or more so. ); Space Colonization (Venturing out into the solar system and beyond, humans in these books establish settlements off-world.)

TONE: Suspenseful

CHARACTER: Flawed; Likeable; Snarky

STORYLINE: Action-Packed


SUBJECT: Androids; Artificial Intelligence; High Technology; Human/Computer Interaction; Investigations; Life on Other Planets; Robotics; Robots; Scientific Expeditions; Scientists