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  • Writer's pictureD.S. Ritter

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

This one is one of my favorites. Normally, I try to be a little objective, but I’m going to fan-girl all over the place for this review. Sorry, not sorry. If you enjoy dry, rather dark humor, you will love this.


In All Systems Red, a team of surveyors must fight for survival on an alien planet when their equipment begins to glitch, and they realize they might not have received all the intel they needed. Lucky for them, they have SecUnit, a humanoid construct programmed to protect them. Unlucky for them, their SecUnit is a rogue murderbot who wants nothing more than to be left along to watch its serials in peace.

Meet Murderbot

I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. Martha Wells. All Systems Red (Kindle Locations 19-20).

That, plus a massive case of social anxiety, pretty much sums up our protagonist, a rogue SecUnit which refers to itself as a murderbot. Murderbot has problems dealing with humans, describing these interactions as “awkward.”

It’s not paranoia about my hacked governor module, and it’s not them; it’s me. I know I’m a horrifying murderbot, and they know it, and it makes both of us nervous, which makes me even more nervous. Martha Wells. All Systems Red (Kindle Locations 129-130).

Murderbot is highly apathetic about pretty much everything except the entertainment feeds. Initially, it doesn’t care about much beyond its contract requirements and keeping the fact that it hacked itself a secret. Well, that, and keeping its armor on so it doesn’t have to deal with the humans directly. Murderbot is almost crippled by shyness and social anxiety, not wanting to make direct eye contact with pretty much anyone. It is very sensitive about this. Needless to stay, when the chips are down and it has to start acting like a real SecUnit, it is highly enjoyable.

Girl Meets Bot

Dr. Mensah is the leader of this particular surveyor team, and she seems to click with Murderbot pretty quickly. It’s really fun watching the two of them interact. I’d say this is one of my favorite odd couples of sci-fi. Watching Murderbot develop and change as it interacts with the rest of the crew is pretty amusing too. Not everyone is cool with it, particularly given Murderbot’s dark and tragic past, but it’s really rather heartwarming, watching it start to come out of its shell (or armor).

I told my helmet to retract so he could see my human face. If the hostile came back and bit me again, this would be a bad mistake, because I did need the organic parts of my head. Martha Wells. All Systems Red (Kindle Locations 49-50).

As Murderbot and Dr. Mensah start to form a bond of trust, we learn more about the mission to the mysterious planet, and what the stakes really are.

Beware; You Will Laugh Out Loud

I was seriously cracking up sometimes, reading this novella. It’s very dry, but very funny. Murderbot has a unique sense of humor that will endear it to you quickly, though I can’t really explain the genius of the comedy that goes on.

I have small energy weapons built into both arms, but the one I went for was the big projectile weapon clamped to my back. The hostile that had just exploded up out of the ground had a really big mouth, so I felt I needed a really big gun. Martha Wells. All Systems Red (Kindle Locations 36-38).  

It's sort of strange, that a book about a robot, which is supposed to be an unfeeling machine, can touch every emotion you have.  A lot of it is funny, but there are some dark and very touching moments too.  And the ending is great, mainly because it leads to more adventures for Murderbot in the future.

What's it Like?

Take Leon from The Professional and put him in the body of David from Prometheus. Then, make him obsessed with soap operas and stuck in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of humans to protect.

Bechdel Test: Pass

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