All Systems Red

By: Martha Wells

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.

Auuster's Takeaway

The story follows a small group of explorers on an uninhabited planet. Their aim is to gather data which will help them decide if the planet is worth colonizing. The survey team employed a company to supply equipment and includes a Security Unit (SecUnit) to protect the team. A SecUnit is a bionic creature that serves as a surveillance vessel for the supply company, they have a governor module that is designed to force the SecUnit to execute commands mandated by the company.

The novella is told in first person by the SecUnit with a broken governor module. This grants it the freedom to choose which instructions to follow. The introspective SecUnit prefers to watch hours of tv shows and dramas and with minimal interactions with humans. Even with a broken governor module the SecUnit, self-entitled ‘murderbot’ continues to protect the survey team from a group of unknown explorers. They use the other team’s beacon to alert for help and escape their predators.

This book is attractive because murderbot is a rather relatable character: It looks for ways to escape from awkward situations; it enjoys time alone to watch serials; it has a sense of responsibility to protect other humans; it has a power weapon in its arm… Okay maybe not the last one, but murderbot’s behaviour and internal dialog is relatively similar to that of many people. Hence it is easy imagine oneself as murderbot, the fact that it doesn’t have a gender makes it even easier to go both ways.