Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #317: Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

I can't say that Martha Wells had as much fun writing Rogue Protocol as I did reading it. Some books look effortless but take real pain and immense effort to put together, and I have no idea what her writing method is.

But Rogue Protocol zips and zings and has at least one sentence so perfect you want to quote it immediately on every page [1], so I'd like to believe that Wells finds writing about Murderbot as fulfilling and exciting as we do reading about it.

This is the third book of "The Murderbot Diaries," following All Systems Red and Artificial Condition. You'll want to read them in that order. I mean that both ways: you need to read them in that order, because each story builds on the one before, and you really should read them at your earliest opportunity. They're all short, all written in Murderbot's inimitable voice, and the first one won a Hugo for Best Novella -- if that doesn't convince you, I think there must be something wrong with you.

In All Systems Red, we learned the David Copperfield stuff: who Murderbot was and how it came to be. And that's when Murderbot first got caught up in the plots of the apparently deeply corrupt GrayCris Corporation, and was outed as the rogue SecUnit -- a construct of organic and robotic parts on a humanoform model but designed to be absolutely loyal to its owners and very good at violence, primarily in the protective sphere -- that it is. The humans Murderbot saved did their best to reward it, and so of course it ran away from them at the first opportunity.

In Artificial Condition, Murderbot returned to the scene of its origin -- the planet where there was a mass murder of humans by SecUnits, and where Murderbot hacked its governor module. What it desperately needed to know was the order of those events.

Rogue Protocol picks up soon afterward, with Murderbot once again passing through transit hubs, getting rides from generally dumber transport-ship AIs in exchange for the vast cache of media that's the only thing Murderbot claims to care about in the world. This time, it's heading to the planet Milu -- partly as part of a larger plan to get out of the Corporation Rim, the part of space it's so far spent its life, and partly to investigate the site of what be another nefarious activity of GrayCris. (Purely so that the humans it saved back in All Systems Red will fall out of the news and people will stop looking for their rogue SecUnit, of course. Murderbot insists repeatedly that it doesn't like people, doesn't have friends, and isn't doing any of this to help anyone else. Repeatedly.)

Does Murderbot get into yet another situation where it is pretending to be something that it isn't? Does it need to defend a group of squishy and all-too-often blind-to-danger humans? Does GrayCris desperately, and violently, want to bury whatever evidence is on Milu deep?

Of course. But the details, and the grumpy professionalism of Muderbot, is what makes Rogue Protocol special. Again, if you haven't read All Systems Red, go get it ASAP. As for me, a fourth book was just published....

[1] Look, I'll try some random pages:

89: That was true, and it even sounded good when I said it.

34: This was exactly the kind of contract that bond companies supply SecUnits for, the kind of contract I had done more times than I still had in my memory. But from Wilken and Gerth's conversations over the past twenty cycles, it was clear there was no bond company, no SecUnits. I tried not to take it personally.

11: The good thing about pretending to be an augmented human security consultant instead of a construct SecUnit is that you can tell the humans to shut up.

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