A Tunnel in the Sky

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The Murderbot Diaries, Part 2
by Martha Wells

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Originally posted April 14, 2020, but edited and rearranged January 15, 2024

Fugitive Telemetry / Network Effect / System Collapse

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Originally posted March 31, 2021
Once again I was fortunate to receive an advance e-book of this title from Edelweiss. I am surprised e-ARCs were offered since this has been a very popular series which doesn't need the extra exposure, although professional reviewers would still be getting early copies. I originally reviewed Network Effect first since it was published first, but Fugitive Telemetry is a prequel to it. It is a novella, but there is still plenty of story here to satisfy any Hard-SF fan. Not so much action, although there is some, but more a mystery which taxes Murderbot's considerable talents. It is set on Preservation Station, which orbits the planet Dr. Mensah and her family call home. I again have to reduce my rating for this book solely on the repetitive nature of Murderbot's exposition, which is getting a little stale. I would have also liked more interaction between Murderbot and Mensah. Their relationship is unique and deserves more exploration, but there may be another one developing.

Murderbot is brought into the investigation when a body is discovered on the station, which is a very infrequent occurrence. It takes a while to ID the victim, but everything before that pointed toward them being a transient visitor to the station. There is still a lot of fear and anxiety from most humans towards Murderbot, because it had been in the news several times identified as a rogue SecUnit, and also because SecUnits are typically cast as villains in popular entertainments. In one scene it should have been obvious Murderbot was helping people who had been kidnapped, but one of them still shot it when they realized it was a SecUnit. It's a good thing it can withstand most weapon attacks, and that it is easily repaired, or parts replaced. The title does not refer to Murderbot, the fugitives are the ones it is trying to help. That other potential relationship I mentioned above would be between Murderbot and Indrah, the head of Station Security. She is initially wary of Murderbot, both anxious and suspicious of its motives, but by the end of the adventure seems to be willing to trust it. I have no idea how many more stories Wells might write, but I will want to read them, even through the repetitive exposition. Recommended..

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Originally posted April 14, 2020
I received an advance e-book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. It's a novel, whereas all the previous parts of the story have been novellas. I had assumed that meant it was going to be the conclusion of Murderbot's story, but that doesn't seem to be the case, or at least it doesn't have to be. In the end, Murderbot is invited to participate in other contract jobs, and it appears it will accept that invitation, so we'll just have to wait and see. That would mean many more adventures, but what intrigues me most is the developing relationship between Murderbot and its former owner, Dr. Mensah, which would be one of friendship, not romance. Murderbot doesn't do romance.

At it's heart this story is another mystery, a puzzle concerning multiple government or corporate entities vying for control of a colony world originally settled, then apparently abandoned, prior to Corporate Rim history, along with the possibility of alien remnant contamination on said world. In a typical mystery you have a potential client approach a detective to investigate a situation. In this case the detective is Murderbot, and the potential client is ART. Remember Asshole Research Transport from the second story? And instead of ART revealing details of the case, the transport ship it controls attacks the ship Murderbot is on, kidnapping it and one of its human clients, Dr. Mensah's daughter, Iris. Then again, ART doesn't actually seem to be in control, maybe it's dead, and the ship is controlled by unidentified humans(?) who had previously captured humans from yet another ship. Where those attackers came from and what their intentions and goals are, and the motives of the other captives, forms the bulk of the mystery, but I still have some lingering questions about some of the events. I'll admit I've had trouble concentrating lately, multiple times having to backtrack and re-read sections due to a daydreaming mind. It's possible I didn't backtrack enough times, or far enough, and missed several clues that would answer some of those questions. Maybe when I re-read this series I'll be able to keep everything straight.

ART is able to be restored, but it is possible it still has some of the alien remnant code that controlled it, and so might Murderbot. It is a fast-paced, action-filled narrative, from several perspectives. The primary narration is from Murderbot as usual, and a couple of interstitial chapters points to the complete narration being part of its therapy sessions, so some time in the future. It is possible it entered therapy at the request of Dr. Mensah, who was in therapy herself, recommended by Murderbot, due to the residual PTSD from her abduction and near death. But we also get the perspective of a copy of Murderbot, dubbed 2.0, a killware code sent to another ship to disable it, and 2.0 provides one of the SecUnits on that ship files of Murderbot's history, as well as the means to override its governor module. After that, we get a few short chapters from SecUnit 3's perspective, as it aids in the rescue of Murderbot 1.0 from the planet's surface.

However many more there might be, each successive story will be more stand-alone, but there will be a continuing storyline of Murderbot either becoming more human, or possibly aligning with other freed SecUnits to form a new segment of society. That would have to happen within Preservation space territory, where Dr. Mensah lives, outside of the Corporate Rim, or they might be able to colonize their own world, to assert autonomy over their fate. I apologize for my repetition concerning the only thing that has disappointed me about these stories, the repetition of Murderbot's continued assertions it doesn't care for humans, when nearly everything it does contradicts that. It may wish it could do nothing but binge watch its favorite shows, no matter how unrealistic they are in relation to how humans actually act. Perhaps it will eventually realize that the study of real people can be more rewarding. I would like to think that is where the story will lead, but even if it's not, I'll want to continue the journey. And one of these days I'd like to be able to binge watch a Murderbot show, or at least Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon.

UPDATE: This novel won the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus, and all titles published through 2020 collectively won a Best Series Hugo at DisConIII, the 79th Worldcon.

LATEST UPDATE: In reference to my comment about wanting to binge watch a Murderbot show, AppleTV+ has announced it is adapting it, with Alexander Skarsgård set to star as everyone's favorite nuerotic SecUnit..

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Posted January 15, 2024
System Collapse is another novel, although shorter than the previous one. It was released two months ago, and I had the hardcover on hold at my library for quite a while, but as of this morning they still don't have it. I found out the ebook was available through Cloud Library so I downloaded it and cancelled the other hold. It is a direct sequel to Network Effect, but since it has been almost four years since I read that I was confused about a few things. Murderbot frequently inserts the word "redacted" into its narrative, which I previously said is probably it telling its story to a therapist. It later reveals part of that, but I am not sure how much of the complete story, or if the event occurred at the end of the previous book, or 'off stage' as it were. I had mentioned the possibility Murderbot might not have been able to remove all the alien remnant code from its control mechanisms, and if so that might be why it had a 'black-out,' for lack of a better term. While disabled, it had a vision, or a dream if that is possible for a SecUnit, of an animal attack. It later thinks that might be from one of the media stories it is fond of watching, rather than something that actually happened.

If I didn't completely miss the point, they are still on the same planet as they were in Network Effect. Murderbot and several from the Preservation University are trying to repair systems for the colonists, but also letting them know they could opt to evacuate the planet since there is still potential alien contamination. That apparently can affect both humans and machines, and in an early scene Murderbot has to fight a rogue Agriculture Bot. Later, the colonists are telling them about a separatist group that left them, and if they are still alive they might be near the terraforming engines at the north pole. Those engines produce interference of radio signals, so no way to be sure. Murderbot and a select few University scientists go to find out, while Dr. Mensah stays aboard the main ship controlled by ART, with one of her assistants continuing to negotiate with the colonists. I do not remember it by name from the previous story, but a competing entity is the Barish-Estranza Corporation, the motives of which Mensah and Murderbot are sure is contract (read 'slave') labor.

They make it to the pole, where they discover a giant underground facility, which Murderbot is convinced is from pre-Corporation Rim history, thus possibly of alien construction, and potentially another source of alien contamination. The separtists are found, but also a force from Barish-Estranza is there, and the separatists have no way to judge which group they should believe. Murderbot battles with some of the B-E human soldiers, as well as a few of their SecUnits, one of which it may have been able to send instructions to disable its governor module. I have no doubt there will be more stories in this sequence, but whether it will be Murderbot trying to keep its humans safe, battling bad guys and alien contamination, it is too early to say. It would be anti-climactic, but what Murderbot needs is a complete shut-down and reboot, plus an extended therapy session. Wherever it goes, I will follow Murderbot.

Related Link:
Go back to the beginning with The Murderbot Diaries, Part 1.


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Martha Wells


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