Author: Martha Wells
Title: Fugitive Telemetry
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #6
The latest (and I mean the latest, its pub date is today!) instalment in the Murderbot series returns to the tried and slightly tired format of a novella. Pity, I say, I preferred the novel length, but it looks like I’m in a minority 😉. Still, Murderbot is enjoyable in any format, and I’d happily read even a short story if there was one.
Fugitive Telemetry seemingly takes us back to pre-Network Effect times, when Murderbot was only beginning to realize the consequences of its previous actions – mainly, that its treated like a person by those closest to it, and expected to make decisions pertaining to its wellbeing. It means such cumbersome, boring and difficult things like finding a place to live, an occupation (and no, binge-watching ridiculous TV series doesn’t count), earning money, etc. Murderbot is not happy. Like any self-respecting rebellious teenager Murderbot is bent on proving to the whole world that giving it any responsibility was a big mistake… Well, at least in the beginning.
You see, the dead human found in the corridors of the Preservation station Murderbot tentatively calls its home might not be such an interesting thing in itself, as 1) he was not Murderbot’s client and 2) he will certainly stay dead, but the investigation into his death suddenly promises to be both diverting and educating. Firstly (and more importantly), Murderbot can try out all the vocabulary picked up in the soap operas it avidly consumes – and some of it even seems to work!, and secondly, there is a shadow of doubt if that killing is not somehow connected to GrayCris. Needless to say, Murderbot dons its deerstalker hat and follows the leads, engaging in some entertaining one-upmanship with the security forces of Preservation Station.
The murder mystery case quickly evolves into something bigger and meaner, with the ubiquitous megacorporations emerging once again as the worst galactic evil, dabbling in slavery, child labour and premeditated killing of those they consider their own property. Obviously, Murderbot is more than happy to put a wrench (or a well-chosen explosive) into their plans. It does it with a swagger and lots of f-words of the regular kind, but even it can be surprised at times.
My favourite aspect of this novella was actually a small (but important) reveal at the very end: the existence of the hidden community of station’s AIs, about which our reclusive, reluctant and introvert Murderbot had no idea. It’s a nice touch, showcasing how maladapted to social life Murderbot really is, not only through its designation as SecUnit, but also through its own personality. It had so long agreed with the corporate designation of itself as an object deprived of agency and punished for the slightest sign of its own initiative that it didn’t think the world beyond corporations might look differently – and hence, once on Preservation, it still treated other, “tame” AIs of the station as it itself had been treated before. Of course, it could have asked the AIs; but being such a reclusive, introverted, and insecure curmudgeon, it never even crossed its mind to ask.
As for the big reveal, though, I felt it was forced; an authorial Deus ex Machina, devised in a very Munchausen style to drag oneself by one’s hair from the conundrum one put oneself in (spoiler alert: highlight at your own risk): how to maintain the inherent “goodness” of the AI while making one the villain of the piece.
The rest is rather run-of-the-mill, typical Murderbot novella. Once again, Murderbot proves itself capable and caring, finds new friends (or at least people who treat it as a person, which is still awkward for our resident misanthrope), and saves the day.
I have been spoiled by Network Effect with its baroque, vaguely Star Trek-y feel and plot. The novel length gave the author more space for character development and worldbuilding, and she made good use of it. In this novella, we get back to short, snappy sentences punctuated by derisive comments and/or expletives, and while I enjoyed it as a whole, because it gave the novella a sense of urgency and sleekness, I couldn’t help feeling I was watching an episode in a long crossover series CSIxDr House. Quite like the Sanctuary Moon soap opera Murderbot is so fond of, I suspect.
All in all, Fugitive Telemetry is entertaining and funny. It’s a fast-paced, undemanding read, perfect for a lazy afternoon or evening. It’s not going to shatter your brain with any revelations; and by the sixth book in the series nobody in their right mind expects anything akin to revelation from Murderbot Diaries. Instead, we get a bit of homemade buttery popcorn. I preferred the pizza, but from time to time I can eat the popcorn too 😉.
I have received a copy of this book from the publisher Tor/Forge through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks.