Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Book-A-Day 2018 #381: Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

Yes, I did maneuver so that this would be the very last book of Book-A-Day -- what better than something called Exit Strategy?

This is the fourth and last book of Martha Wells's "The Murderbot Diaries," a series of excellent novellas in book form that have already won her one Hugo. All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, and Rogue Protocol were the previous books. A follow-up novel is promised, and I expect there will be a one-volume edition of The Murderbot Diaries in late 2019 or 2020 as well. But don't wait for either of those things: this is a great series of compelling page-turners narrated by a uniquely enticing voice.

That's Murderbot itself: a rogue SecUnit in a vaguely cyberpunky medium-future FTL-equipped setting. The larger human-inhabited universe seems to include areas with functional governments, but out on the Corporate Rim, where Murderbot has spent its career, everything is run by competing companies -- sometimes more-or-less decently, often very badly. What oversight there seems to be is provided by insurance companies and security outfits, and is entirely based on payments today and the prospect of being around to collect further payments later.

Which brings us to GrayCris, which has been doing some very nefarious deeds that Murderbot has been uncovering -- partially without wanting to -- for three books now. Murderbot was under contract to GrayCris and at the scene of a massacre: it went back there in Artificial Condition to find out why, and whether it hacked its governor module before or after that massacre. Along the way, it's accumulated a lot of data on GrayCris activities, mostly involving secretly collecting interdicted alien artifacts, the release of which would trash GrayCris's relationships with all of its counterparties and possibly even bring the company down. (Remember: this is an all-corporate environment: there are no "laws" as such to violate, only negotiated agreements among large profit-seeking entities.)

GrayCris, though, won't go quietly. Murderbot realizes that they have kidnapped Dr. Mensah -- head of the survey team it saved back in All Systems Red to start the whole thing -- and that they're trying to find Murderbot, too. Murderbot, through some combination of growing emotional attachment to specific humans, a sense of righteousness, and a faulty risk assessment module, decides to go to the station where Mensah is being held. And, of course, it gets caught up in an attempt to break her out.

As I said, a further Murderbot novel is promised, but that's as far as I'll go with spoilers.

Murderbot is a wonderful, deep character, and its voice is true and conflicted and immediately gripping. The Murderbot Diaries aren't about what it is to be human -- Wells is telling stories here, not making a sermon -- but Murderbot is a fascinating person, unique in its universe, trying to figure out where it fits in and what it can do with its life. (Besides watching The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon over and over again.) These are great books from one of our best SFF writers, and it's great to see not just how strong they are, but how much the SFF readership has grabbed onto them and celebrated them.

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