All Systems Red by Martha Wells
In 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.
I absolutely loved this! A murderbot that just wants to catch up on the latest show episodes – because guarding humans is effort, and frankly, who cares? Except unfortunately when you’ve got a hacked governor module that means you don’t have to do what the bosses order, you do occasionally have to be useful, just so you don’t get stripped for parts.
And when ‘useful’ includes rescuing your survey team from a monster that wasn’t listed on the planetary survey, that unfortunately leads to more work. Like figuring out why the second survey team now aren’t talking to anyone. Or checking who deleted areas of the map. And then when your survey team start treating you like an actual team member as opposed to a rented murderbot, that means you have to interact with them, when really just being left alone to watch shows would be just great….
Luckily this is a trilogy, as my major complaint was that it’s too short; it ends quite abruptly, and I want to know what happens next! The characterisation is brilliant, and the main character (the previously-mentioned murderbot) made me laugh. The survey team are interesting, and I loved the way the motivations and plot are woven together. It never feels overwhelming or too complex, but the unfolding events are a brilliant mix of action and thought.
In short: sarcastic, cynical, amusing, enthralling and brilliant. I’m eagerly waiting for the next one!