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.
Martha Wells has written a series of novellas and occasional novels about Murderbot, a security robot that I adore. I mean, how can you not immediately fall in love with a character and a story that begins with “I’m a murderbot, but instead of murdering I’ve watched 35,000 hours of tv.”
All Systems Red is a fun sci-fi adventure story about a group of scientists on an unexpectedly hostile planet, whose work is being sabotaged for some unknown reason. But the plot is entirely secondary to the character of Murderbot, whose hacked governor module allows it to think and act freely. Since it is essentially made of weapons, this is highly illegal. The joy of the book comes from Murderbot slowly having to open up and trust the team it’s been hired to protect. Relationships? Feelings? AGH.
“Talk to Murderbot about it’s feelings? The idea was so painful I dropped to 97% efficiency.”
Murderbot reads like someone who has social anxiety or is on the autism spectrum. It hates having its face exposed so that everyone can see its expressions, and despite its increasing fondness for the team, it would feel a lot more comfortable if it could just watch its soap operas alone, thank you very much.
This book is super short, so there is no excuse not to read it. Please do so immediately – it is very nearly perfect.
What Makes This Book Queer?
Murderbot describes itself as having no gender or sexual parts, which is perhaps not unusual in a robot. However, Murderbot truly seems to be written as queer, specifically agender and asexual. While watching its serials, Murderbot says that it fast forwards through sex scenes, then explicitly clarifies that this would likely be the case even if it had sexual parts.
Side note: The audiobook that I listened to was read by a man, which felt very heteronormative. Most sci-fi books about sentient robots are male-coded, so I get it. But when the text intentionally challenges this assumption, it would have been nice for the audiobook to have been read by someone who identifies as genderqueer.
That’s not the only queer thing about All Systems Red, though. The series is set in a future that embraces relationships of all kinds. During one scene, Murderbot describes the team it works for as a hodge podge of crushes and relationships that transcend genders. Toward the end of the book, established triads are also mentioned.
Basically, the queerness of the Murderbot series is baked into the world, and I can’t wait for real life to catch up.
Want more? Check out this interview with Martha Wells.