Martha Wells’ System Collapse

cover, System CollapseThis installment of The Murderbot Diaries series picks up pretty much where Network Effect left off. SecUnit (aka Murderbot) and its frenemy, the transport ship mind Perihelion (which Murderbot calls ART for Asshole Research Transport) and a handful of humans have remained at the alien contaminated planet where the climax of that book took place, to persuade the residents to leave before the corporation that now claims to own the planet enslaves them.

Things are proceeding as they do in a Murderbot story, with our intrepid, shy, sarcastic hero providing security services and advice to a group of humans who seem, to Murderbot, determined to get themselves killed through curiosity or lack of planning or carelessness, or, most often, all three. But wait … there’s something we’re not being told. And we know it’s being kept from us because every so often Murderbot’s report file is interrupted by the word redacted just like that, in italics.

So we’re on a nameless planet where Murderbot nearly got killed (read Network Effect to see how that happened. Which I’m going to do (again) as soon as I finish writing this). It’s contaminated by old alien technology that has started infecting the lost colonists who have been there for several generations, causing them and their machines to try to kill each other. The job of Murderbot and ART and their humans is to persuade the various squabbling factions on the planet that it’s in their own interest to leave the planet before it kills them, or before representatives of the Barish-Estranza (B-E) Corporation ships them off to the salt mines of Enceladus or whatever. Murderbot and friends have just found out that there’s a breakaway group that’s been living underground in one of the polar regions and not communicating with any of the other colonists. The weather is dangerously unstable there, the atmosphere mildly toxic, and comms and scanners don’t work because of the presence of ancient terraforming installations. And the subterranean humans, if they’re not all dead, are probably hostile. Also, you know, that’s only the “known knowns” and the “known unknowns.”

Basically business as usual for Murderbot. Only it’s not functioning at its usual level because of the redacted mystery. Murderbot is so traumatized about this redacted thing that it can’t even enjoy its favorite streaming space soap opera The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon. But unbeknownst to it, all those Corporate-standard days it has spent streaming media are going to pay off in a big way, and possibly point the way forward as this autonomous SecUnit tries to figure out what it wants to do with its life.

Fast paced, darkly hilarious, and deeply humane as usual, Wells’s latest Murderbot story is just what the Med Unit prescribed to relieve your own boredom, trauma, or existential crises.

(TorDotCom, 2023)

Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.

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