Book Review – Network Effect

#5 in the Murderbot series.

While on a security job for some Preservation folks we’ve already met, Murderbot and it’s crew get kidnapped by an unusual and dangerous group of grey people who may or may not be under the influence of some alien remnant technology. Unfortunately for them, they chose Murderbot’s closest friend to mess with so when Murderbot begins to take control, things go seriously wrong for the baddies.

This is the first full-length novel in the Murderbot series and it was packed with action, intrigue, and (not?) surprisingly some very tender moments. Murderbot has mostly adjusted to the Preservation crew (and Dr. Mensah) treating it like a normal person, but it’s still trying to wade through the confusing feelings that emotional connections to others brings.

This book brings back series favorite ART and we get to see how two sentient, un-governed AIs really feel about each other. As the story progresses, there are a bunch of shocking and worrisome events that happen which make both Murderbot and ART pretty much go off the rails in their attempts to save one another. I won’t spoil anything but let’s just say that it’s really interesting to see them have such human emotions and responses.

The characters in the book were well done – Martha Wells is a master at character creation and growth. We knew most of the Preservation crew already, but we did get to meet a few other Corporation Rim folks, along with some long-lost colonists. But the best new character has to be SecUnit 3. You’ll have to read the book to find out more, but let’s just say it was very cool. Every character played a specific role in the story and no one was there as fluff, filler, or a distraction. One thing I do want to note is that during the first half of this novel, the tone of Murderbot’s internal dialog seemed to be shifted and for some reason, I was reading it more as a male-leaning voice instead of the feminine one I’d had in the previous 4 novellas. By the end of the story though, it had seemed to balance out into just being itself and sounded mostly non-gendered, which suited the character perfectly.

The story itself was exciting and while I was concerned at first about the length compared to previous books, Wells did a great job weaving a deeply rich story about friendship, mystery, and the lengths at which someone will go to get back the people they care for the most. We also learned more about how corporations are looking for alien remnants by disguising their work as terraforming projects, and how badly those projects can go for humans left abandoned due to corporation politics. And, we learned why alien tech is so dangerous and why it’s illegal to go looking for it in the first place.

It’s an easy 5 out of 5 on this one. The story was told in a way that kept me captivated and I found myself thinking about it often during my work day. I highly recommend this series, it’s one of the best in science fiction.

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