19 August 2018

Lemonade Easy: A Review of Rogue Protocol, Martha Wells

It's early - the sun having risen hours before still looms lightly in the sky, casting a waning summer glow to the trees beyond my windowpane. The house sleeps around me while I quietly sip my coffee, glancing to the splayed edition of the next Murderbot chronicle. There is something about summer reading that catches my eye - the books need to be quick, something I can plunge in and out from without distraction. Summer is my mental cleansing months - reading becomes a purely pleasurable experience reliant on whodunits and easy sci-fi. Sure, there was that intense moment when I drank up the The Three Body Problem, flailing in the deep end of conjecture and wonder, but mostly my summer has been lemonade-accompanied easy-reading. 

Rogue Protocol, third in The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells has our favourite anti-social, soap-opera loving SecUnit in mid-transport trying to hitch the right ride to Milu system. Having successfully hacked its system, living beyond the confines of a SecUnit's strict protocols, Murderbot had, for a brief period been living the rogue life - performing security for Company contracts, all while being a willing sentient individual with a heart. Constructs, SecUnits live outside humanity acting as the boogieman, the scary enforcer who will keep you safe, killing when necessary. Owned and operated by large corporations, SecUnits are treated as property, controlled by software to ensure public safety but more accurately the corporate bottom line. 
In the first novella, All Systems Red, Murderbot inadvertently entangles itself with a group of scientists who are meant never to leave off-planet alive. To save the team and itself, Murderbot casts off it's mask of indenture, so beginning it's crusade for justice against GrayCris.

I am having a whoop of good time following this slightly depressed, socially awkward cyborg reluctantly embrace its humanity. Will Murderbot find closure by slowly peeling away its layers of discontent and sadness? Martha Wells has captured the unique dilemma of a creature not quite human but very much a part of humanity. Although Murderbot has enjoyed endless hours stuffed into cargo holds, watching hours of streamed entertainment it is becoming more obvious this is more a coping strategy rather than a life-choice. When he meets a Bot named Miki whose child-like innocence reveals a touching relationship of trust with it's human owner, Murderbot is overwhelmed with a complex mixture of anger and longing. 

The Murderbot Diaries unpack the psychological complexity of the reluctant hero. Remarkably it is the relationships with the operating systems of elevators, ships, drones, cameras and the varying models of Bots that bring life to these novellas. There is something quite delightful about a Ship so bored by its massive intellect that it force friendship's Murderbot into entertaining it as it successfully instructs Murderbot how to be less scary. 

While the future of The Murderbot Diaries is seemingly far from our present day there are elements that ring true. That smart fridge in your kitchen that pings you with milk expiration messages could very well be judging your dietary decisions. The future is much closer than we believe - be kind to our future robot overlords.