Book: Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells

Cover of Martha Wells’ Exit Strategy

Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries)
by Martha Wells
published by Tor
2018

Book 4 in this delightful series of novellas about a cyborg-ish Security Unit who has been through some very bad situations, has liberated itself from human control, has some natural-feeling human-saving habits continues!

This volume has everything you’ve come to love Murderbot for, from its amusement at silly humans, its irrepressible desire to hack systems, relationships with differently-abled bots, a bit of time to enjoy new entertainment media, and…. okay, there was some unexpected shopping, which was brief, and didn’t appear to be habit-forming. But all the stuff you really want to know about Murderbot’s fondness for some special humans from the first book I’m going to withhold, so you can enjoy finding out what happens on your own.

I enjoyed it, and now I’m ready for the full length novel!

(Yes, you need to start reading the stories from the first novella, silly human. Go do that.)

Book: Rogue Protocol (the Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells

Cover of Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

Rogue Protocol (the Murderbot Diaries)
by Nancy Wells
published by Tor
2018

As you know by now, I love me some Murderbot. Martha Wells’ stories about an unauthorized / independent, telenovela-addicted android-cyborg security unit trying to understand its situation and cope with fragile humans who put themselves into dangerous situations are delightful, and this is the third novella in the set. There is a full length book that was released THIS WEEK, and so of course I am changing my strategy from doling the novellas out to myself slowly to catching up quickly.

In this exciting episode, Murderbot has a suspicion that its favorite human could use some evidence against the corporation that tried to kill her and her team. So, being a very direct kind of SecUnit, it goes to the scene of a potential crime.

There are bots! Drones! Weapons! Heavy equipment! Various combinations of nice and dastardly humans! The story maintains an engaging pace, is well-written, and… is it just me, or is Murderbot developing a soft spot for people? No, I don’t mean where it was shot or caught all that shrapnel, I mean… oh, I can’t spoil it for you.

It is another fun episode. 🙂

Book: The Power by Naomi Alderman

Cover of The Power by Naomi Alderman

The Power
by Naomi Alderman
published by Back Bay Books (Little, Brown and Company)
2016

What would happen to the structure of society if women had the physical power to defend themselves, or even routinely overpower men?

In this engrossing novel, women develop the ability to generate electricity. Humans already have a lot of electrical wiring internally, but in the book, a scientific intervention intended for one purpose may have inadvertently given rise to the ability for women to generate and control electricity, an have the ability to taze at will from puberty onward.

This changes the world.

The story follows several women, both privileged and disadvantaged, comfortable and abused, in the spotlight and sidelined, who find different ways of utilizing this development to influence the direction their societies evolve in. The story of an intrepid male reporter from Lagos also provides a sympathetic (and at times, alarmed) point of view.

Alderman does a remarkable job of showing the RANGE of impacts that could arise, from fiercely patriarchal societies harming or killing women to maintain control, to government leaders militarizing this new ability; from women who use moderation in utilizing their new powers in societies that have included them, to women who wreak vengeance upon their captors and oppressors in societies were they functionally enslaved.

The way the book ends… just be sure to read what looks like an appendix, but is a key part of the story.

Yes, I’m sure Margaret Atwood is DELIGHTED that she got to make such a concise review-and-play-on-words about this book ON THE FRONT COVER.

As someone who has daydreamed of subtly engineering women to be stronger to decrease abuses, do I think that power struggles could play out as they do in this book? Yes, and perhaps Alderman is more realistic than I am, considering history. When have the powerful ever shared power willingly and peacefully? When have enslaved people ever received justice? When have oppressors ever willingly made amends? My own dark futures in fiction are dark DIFFERENTLY, but yes, I think we agree on the backlash. Because: humans.

Also note: read the acknowledgements. No, really.

Summary: a page-turner of a book with a thoughtful story arc for the characters, thoughtful (and very dramatic) implications across the wide range of conditions, and a dark view which is entirely fair, considering the state of the world. I’m glad I read it.

Book: Artificial Condition : The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

Cover of Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

Artificial Condition: The Murderbot Diaries
by Martha Wells
published by Tor
2018

This is volume 2 of the 4-so-far series of novellas by Martha Wells, describing the ongoing adventures of a Security Unit with a bloody past.

In this book, our Murderbot journeys to investigate that ‘bloody past’ story, since its digital memory has been wiped, and its organic memory is confused. Can a lone bot, without funds or travel papers, visit the mining colony where things may have gone so wrong?

The short answer is YES, and Murderbot makes some friends along the way.

Ms. Wells writing is speedy, clear, and direct. (This is not a Lovecraft book, where many pages will be devoted to the way a coffee table was decorated in the middle of a conversation.) Key technologies are applied without dwelling on any boring details about specific codes, just like we use technology in real life – it works, we don’t need to overthink it. Murderbot has endearing qualities which it is largely unaware of, and lots of anxiety, which is completely plausible in its situation.

I also enjoy the depiction of… let’s call it friendship between synthetic intelligences, and their willingness to use their processing power to meddle favorable and to pass the time! The relationship between Murderbot and an assertive (and sensitive) Transport ship gave this story a charming tone.

Books: All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

Cover of All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red: the Murderbot Diaries
by Martha Wells
published by Tor
2017

Do you read Janelle Shane’s hilarious posts on training neural nets at aiweirdness.com? Or perhaps follow her on Twitter? Well, I do, and she kept writing about how much she LOVES Murderbot. And she is so fun! Which suggests to me that Murderbot might be fun.

I investigated. I read. I learned. MURDERBOT IS FUN.

Sorry, I didn’t meant to shout that. 🙂 But it’s TRUE! Martha Wells’ novella about a security unit that’s a little bit cloned human, and a lot of roboty parts, is fun to read. Murderbot itself is fun: it had… a bad run of luck that was very fatal for a lot of people, and doesn’t really trust its makers anymore. And loves video dramas. And is a little too smart for its job. And… then things get VERY INTERESTING in the unmapped bits of the planet that its clients are exploring…

It’s a page turner! (You can read a sample on the Tor website here.) And there are more volumes to turn, and a full length novel coming out, and now I’m going to need to read all of those. Because: Murderbot is fun.

Books: Agency, by William Gibson

Cover of the novel Agency, by William Gibson

Agency, a Novel
by William Gibson
published by Berkeley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
2020

Agency, a Novel by William Gibson, made me giddy, excited to be reading, and excited to think about the future. Which is worrisome, because it is seriously dystopian!

The story is set in what is functionally the present, in a parallel universe in which the Democrats won the US presidency in 2016, and the world is heading toward a world-ending nuclear conflict triggered by a proxy war in Syria. Authorities in a dark future attempt to intervene to save this parallel reality from destruction by reaching back through time using [a technical magic trick] to contact a woman in San Francisco, who is testing out a new technology that could change her reality’s future.

Be aware that this is the second book in a series that began with The Peripheral, which sets the scene / technology / world-building for this book, and to fully appreciate this one, you’ll need to read its predecessor. Know that the story and quality of writing is worth it to commit to both books!

I’m one of those people who has been reading Gibson’s novels since his cyberpunk era, and am an even bigger fan of his recent, non-cyberpunk work. While cyberpunk felt very much built around dark video game graphics and deadly street fighters, Gibson’s recent writing features remarkably hip female lead characters, contemporary conceptual art, vividly realized technology that feels imminent and consumer-ready, and touchpoints in human cultural products like film, fashion, user interface design, and cosplay. Gibson is developing an extensive female readership, having moved from describing women physically (I flash back to a character’s girlfriend who was perpetually sexually available: “She was always ready…”) to writing in the voice of really compelling female characters. He writes characters that are smart, enjoyable, and human!

Gibson uses language skillfully: there were sentences I re-read out loud to savor. There aren’t many authors I can say that about.

I recommend this book! I especially recommend it to people who like his other recent works, fans of near-future fiction, people who drink coffee at Craftsman + Wolves on Valencia Street (lightly disguised by a slight name change in the novel), people who daydream about AIs that are actually clever, and dystopian futures that feature grown-ups.

I bought this book new from Green Apple Books here in San Francisco. You can order online from them! Always support your local booksellers!