Exit Strategy wraps up the novella series by bringing Murderbot full circle: back to Dr Mensah and her team, the people it helped in the first book. Second-guessing itself, hating the idea of becoming a pet bot, but nonetheless needing to help the person who is (nominally, at least!) its owner, Murderbot finds that Dr Mensah is probably a hostage and goes ahead with doing what it does best. Planning, worrying extensively, and then throwing itself headlong into trouble.
If I didn’t know there was a novel coming as a follow-up, I’d be really mad about this final book, honestly. The second and third books gave us some development for Murderbot, of course, but they also gave us characters I’d really like to see again. Particularly ART, though I’d like to know what became of everyone else as well. It’s not that this book doesn’t give a kind of closure, because it does, but it doesn’t wrap things up in the kind of everything-converges-and-everybody-meets ending I guess I was hoping for.
It’s enjoyable, and Murderbot remains a delight. But I want more!
In Rogue Protocol, Murderbot figures out a way it can help Dr Mensah, though naturally while it gets to work on that it ends up entangled with — what else? — protecting a whole new group of humans, along with their pet robot, Miki. Murderbot has a lot of complicated feelings about the relationship between Miki and Abene, which is obviously a parallel to that between Murderbot and Dr Mensah.
This one didn’t really stick in my head very well before I reread it — I knew it was the one with Miki, of course, but to me it’s the least distinctive so far. It’s a bit like the second book over again, with a slightly less compelling companion/foil for Murderbot. It’s not bad, and of course it leads to Murderbot’s conclusion about what it needs to do at the end, but it doesn’t sparkle for me in quite the same way.
Very much looking forward to getting into the final act properly now, with everything fresh in my mind. Here goes…!
Artificial Condition might be my favourite book of the quartet so far on this reread (though I haven’t read the last book yet). It features ART, Asshole Research Transport (so-called by Murderbot), and the interactions between the two are just a delight. Murderbot stows away on ART, only to find that the intelligence controlling the ship is far greater than usual, and very curious about Murderbot, its motives, and where its going. With ART’s help, Murderbot disguises itself to look a little more human, and even ends up with a human job as a security consultant, which it naturally takes very seriously. Protecting humans, after all, seems to come naturally — as long as Murderbot can snark about them being idiots to itself in private, at least.
Really, my favourite parts are the way ART and Murderbot interact when they’re alone, the tentative trust between them, and of course the fact that they watch Netflix and pretend not to have feelings about it. The part where Murderbot is actually figuring out its past and helping the humans from the team it works as a security consultant for is a bit secondary, though ART does add commentary and help throughout.
I really do hope we see more of ART (and understand some of the mysteries around ART, because really, why is that AI so independent and well armed?). I do enjoy the episodic nature of these novellas, but I’m also looking forward to the idea of an actual Murderbot novel with more room in it to roll around in.
“Oh no, I’m having a feeling” just about sums up poor Murderbot’s life. But I’m starting in the middle here. Let’s go back to the beginning: All Systems Red is the first novella in a series. Murderbot is the main character, an organic/machine hybrid created for guard duty and overall security. Murderbot is, as of this novella, deployed with a group of overall quite decent humans who are surveying a planet. When things start to go wrong, it turns out that Murderbot is their best chance. You see, Murderbot’s hacked its own governer module, and that means it has a degree of free will not normally enjoyed by constructs like itself.
(It has no illusions about what it is, hence the name “Murderbot”, which it has given itself.)
Dr Mensah and her team turn out to be rather great human beings, and they react well to Murderbot’s free will, allowing it to help them and ultimately… well, no spoilers! Suffice it to say that Murderbot spends quite a bit of time with them, to its own dismay. Humans are difficult, and it would much rather be watching the equivalent of Netflix.
It’s just all… so charming, despite being murdery — Murderbot has a lot of anxiety and yet also cares about the humans its meant to be protecting. It doesn’t have to take risks to help them, but it does. I would say I want to give Murderbot a hug, but the poor thing would be utterly horrified at the idea.
I’ve read All Systems Red before, of course, but I haven’t read the final novella in the series, so a reread seemed like a great idea. I agree, past self! It was a great idea. Murderbot makes me happy.
Yay! More Murderbot! My one quibble so far is really that both books have had Murderbot meet up with other people, we learn just enough about them to be invested, and then they end up parting ways. I want more of ART, particularly; I want more of the team that Murderbot protected in the first book — gaah, just have everyone come together and have adventures already!
Nonetheless, I enjoyed Murderbot’s interactions with ART a lot, and I’m very curious about ART’s crew as well. I loved them basically doing Netflix and chill together, and I loved ART’s bossy but well-meaning way of trying to help Murderbot — and especially ART’s understanding of the things that Murderbot isn’t ready to articulate or face, and the way ART pushes Murderbot to look more human, act more human, blend into the background more…
I also enjoyed getting to know a tiny bit more about Murderbot’s past. I’m going to guess there’ll be more about that and the ComfortUnits later on; I’m intrigued to get wherever this is going. I just hope ART is there too! And some time for ART and Murderbot to sit down and watch some Worldhoppers or Sanctuary Moon together. <3
All Systems Red is the diary of a self-proclaimed murderbot — a part organic, part synthetic construct designed to protect groups of colonists, and perfectly capable of going wrong and killing them all. Hence, Murderbot — although our Murderbot has disabled the system that they think caused them to do that, and manages to take pretty good care of its little group of prospectors while also mainlining a ton of soaps and whatever other entertainment programs come its way.
I found it all very entertaining, but there was a more serious aspect, too: the Murderbot’s misanthropic attitude and even anxiety about interacting with humans, especially without its suit and opaque helmet on as a buffer. Thus the interactions with the team were a little sad as well as funny — if not sad, perhaps the right term would be invested with pathos, especially as they interact more and more with their employers (contractors? not sure quite what the term should be).
I was a little disappointed by the ending, leaving behind the established team. Obviously there’s gonna be more Murderbot, but… with a new cast otherwise? Boo. I was just getting to like ’em.
City of Bones, Martha Wells Review from 15th July, 2013.
I don’t know what to think of this book. It’s my first Martha Wells book, and I’m promised some of her others are even better: this one is beautiful in its attention to detail, its careful worldbuilding. I enjoyed a lot that this is fantasy and post-apocalyptic work at the same time: we’re talking magic here, not science, not even science that looks like magic. This is what I’ve hungered for — a one-shot fantasy story that isn’t focused on romance or anything other than solid characters and a solid plot.
There’s a lot of really fascinating aspects to this world. There’s some interesting gender stuff going on with the main character, Khat. He’s part of an engineered race who are like humans but have various modifications to better suit the conditions of their post-apocalyptic world. One example being their ability to tell where north is by instinct. Another being the fact that both men and women can bear young in pouches. Then there’s the fact that the kris — Khat’s people — are sought after by some high class women because they can’t interbreed with humans: it’s not high class men taking advantage of poor women, but the other way round (in effect). And the high class women all have very short hair, while high class men wear veils. One of the main characters, Elen, has a powerful role to begin with and becomes more powerful in her society as the story goes on; the ruler’s heir is a woman.
At the same time, there’s some possessiveness around women and an expectation that they’ll stay home and have children, so it’s not quite turned completely around.
Khat is a great character: tough, smart, but not infallible and not all-knowing. I can believe in the people around him, the bonds he has to others — I love the awkwardness with Elen at the end, and the comfortableness he always has with Sagai because Sagai understands Khat isn’t going to confide everything in him. I liked that the “bad” characters aren’t completely one-sided (except the Inhabitants and perhaps the Heir), and though I saw it coming, I liked what became of “mad” Constans.
I love the details of the world, the fact that water is a commodity — which isn’t a hugely original idea, but which fits so well here and isn’t used as some kind of dystopic problem, but just as a background to the story, a part of the system of commerce and trade.
I really enjoyed the fact that this is sort of a fantastical Indiana Jones with aristocratic scheming moving the pieces, too. The details of the relics, the academic discussions around them… That’s my world, really, at least on the literature side of things, and it’s lovely to have a hero for whom that is a big draw.
There’s a lot of genuine sense of wonder and beauty, here, and the author steers away from a too-convenient ending. People die, friendships are stillborn, and the world ticks on as before with the person who made that possible barely rewarded. Very enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Wells’ stuff.
I was really sad and shocked today when I was scrolling through twitter and saw this sudden announcement from Angry Robot:
As you will be aware, Angry Robot Books has a history of innovation and we continue to go from strength to strength. We’re constantly trying out new concepts and new ideas, and we continue to publish popular and award-winning books. Our YA imprint Strange Chemistry and our crime/mystery imprint Exhibit A have – due mainly to market saturation – unfortunately been unable to carve out their own niches with as much success.
We have therefore made the difficult decision to discontinue Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A, effective immediately, and no further titles will be published from these two imprints.
That’s not all that’s out there by a long shot, but that should give everyone an idea of the fanbase those imprints had out there, and how shocking the news was for everyone. I’ve been a fan of Angry Robot and everything they do for a while, especially since I won the Robot for a Day competition (where I met the staff and the blogger who was at that point their intern, Leah @ Uncorked Thoughts). I have a huge backlog of their stuff to read, from all three imprints, but I think I might spend this weekend finally getting round to books by Kim Curran, Laura Lam, Gwenda Bond, etc.
The good news is, the books already published will still be supported by Angry Robot, and rights for future books are reverting to the authors. The bad news is that various books that were slated to come out in the next few months won’t be, some series aren’t going to be finished (at least not with Strange Chemistry), and some authors don’t know where they can go next.
I’m going to follow the example of one of the posts linked above and do a giveaway of some of my favourite Strange Chemistry books. Comment with which you want to be entered for, and I’ll pick at random on the 1st July. You can enter for multiple books, but you will only win one. If you would prefer ebooks, we can probably arrange something, but the idea is that I will buy copies via The Book Depository and send them straight to you. I want to encourage new readers to get their mitts on these books and generate some buzz that might help the authors place future books with publishers! And yes, this is international.
So, without further ado, the giveaways:
Martha Wells, Emilie & The Hollow World.
Sean Cummings, Poltergeeks.
Rachel Neumeier, Black Dog.
Cassandra Rose Clarke, The Assassin’s Curse.
Winner’s choice of any book from Strange Chemistry or Exhibit A.
And honestly? I wish it could be more. I have so much sympathy with all the authors and staff affected. Let’s give them a good send off!
ETA: So, the winners! Grace won Emilie & the Hollow World; majoline won Poltergeeks; Erin won Black Dog; ameliazane won The Assassin’s Curse; Jessica won the winner’s choice (and chose Gwenda Bond’s Blackwood). All of them have been emailed and all of them responded already, so the books have been ordered and are en route.
I was pretty excited for Emilie & The Sky World, so I moved it up the reading queue when I got the ARC, along with the previous book which I only recently finished. It really is a great girl’s own adventure story, with plenty of strong, capable women and some intriguing other races — in the previous book, Rani and Kenar, in this book, Hyacinth. I love that while Wells has a fertile imagination, she doesn’t tell all she knows — Hyacinth leaves at the end of the book, with so many questions still hovering around it.
The Emilie books are very fast-paced, and I agree with people who say they feel quite slight. Definitely not the same audience as City of Bones (my other read by Wells), but it’s not the book’s fault if it doesn’t work with an audience it’s not meant for. I mean, it’s on the Strange Chemistry imprint, not Angry Robot: I’m expecting YA, and that’s what you get here — perfectly pitched, to my mind.
There are a couple of nitpicks, maybe. Emilie vacillates a bit between being a total kid and a capable person, but… that happens, with teenagers, so it isn’t so strange. I enjoyed the realism of her relationship with Efrain, her younger brother, and the bit at the end where she resolves things with her uncle. It isn’t perfect — it’s awkward as heck — but it feels genuine.
Also loved the casual inclusion of an LGBT relationship. It just feels so… normal. Martha Wells isn’t making that dumb mistake of just taking the mores of our (past) societies just to borrow the steampunk motifs that work for her. I like that a lot.
What did you recently finish reading?
The last thing I read was the Ultimate Hawkeye comic, I think. Not a big fan. And before that, J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Archive, which again, not a big fan of. Before that, though, it was Emilie & the Hollow World (Martha Wells), which makes a great girl’s own adventure story.
What are you currently reading?
Fiction: Emilie & the Sky World (Martha Wells), the sequel to the book mentioned above! It’s an ARC and I’m very much enjoying it. I wanted to finish it today, but work got in the way…
Non-fiction: Through the Language Glass: Why the world looks different in other languages? (Guy Deutscher). It’s fascinating to read a longer explanation of the issues like the Ancient Greek epithet for the sea, the “wine-dark sea”, and why that arose from seeing colour differently.
What do you think you’ll read next? Black Dog (Rachel Neumeier), as she’s stopping by my blog on her blog tour (post coming up on 31st January, if I remember rightly), from my ARCs. I also want to start on Stolen Songbird (Danielle L. Jensen).
And then there’s also What Makes This Book So Great (Jo Walton), which I will be buying in the morning. (Not now, I don’t need another excuse to procrastinate and get distra