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I’m continuing to thoroughly enjoy Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries series having just finished Rogue Protocol, the third novella in the collection (and still incredibly overpriced, even for such quality). I’ve already reviewed All Systems Red and Artificial Condition.
Side Note: I’ve mentioned this before in one of the previous reviews, but even though the security unit/murderbot has no gender, even though partially organic, I can’t help but hear her voice as a “her.” Maybe it’s because I’m aware that the author is a woman, or maybe it’s because Wells projected a “female” personality into her voice during the writing, but that’s how I think of “her.” I know some people are going to object to this (for gender identity reasons), but for this and other reviews, the SecUnit is a “she” to me. That’s what I’m going to call her.
In this “episode,” our SecUnit who sometimes goes by the name of “Consultant Rin” when posing as an augmented human security consultant, continues to pursue clues as to her past and the lost portions of her memories. To that end, she stows away on another robotic spacecraft, convincing its AI that she belongs there, and travels to a station orbiting the planet Milu. There, she plans to travel to an abandoned orbiting terraforming station that is not what it appears to be.
On the transport, Wilkin and Gerth, two augmented humans board. They are both security consultants supposedly hired by GrayCris to protect an exploratory team going to the platform. The platform would have collapsed long ago if not held together by a stabilizing field, which is an important plot point later in the story (I won’t reveal why…read the book).
Once her presence is discovered, the SecUnit once again poses as the augmented human Consultant Rin. She meets several humans going to the station, including Don Abene. Abene has a robot named Miki who behaves almost like a pet toward the humans, professing friendship and love toward them. The bot is completely innocent and guileless which makes Rin (if she were capable of it) sick to her stomach and uncharacteristically envious (the latter, she is capable of).
Rin discovers that GrayCris was using the station to mine alien artifacts from the planet while posing as a terraforming mission. This is illegal and is just the evidence the SecUnit needs to prove she didn’t massacre humans on that station as is currently believed.
However, although she has enlisted Miki as her covert ally (and her friend), her identity as a SecUnit is found out. On top of that, the group is attacked by bots, drones, and three CombatBots, but who is controlling them?
There is plenty of great SciFi military action in this short tale, but the real message seems to be the relationship between Rin and Miki. They are almost polar opposites, and Rin, as I mentioned before, grudgingly admits to envy, wishing she were as well accepted (and loved?) by humans as Miki. With her governor module overridden, not only must the SecUnit pretend to be human if she can, but even when it is known she is a SecUnit, she must pretend to have a human controller. The very idea of a construct as dangerous as a SecUnit being autonomous would be terrifying and she’d be destroyed.
I won’t go into the specific adventure except to say if you like action and suspense, you’re going to love “Rogue Protocol,” but Rin does succeed in saving the humans (even without orders to do so from a human, she just can’t help herself) and find the required evidence.
With new personality augments, she decides to deliver that evidence herself rather than just transmit it, which I’m sure will lead to more adventures.
I will reveal one spoiler. Miki disobeys a direct order form Abene to protect itself and instead, allows itself to be destroyed to save her (and the rest of the humans and probably Rin, too).
Machine intelligences, including Rin, don’t trust one another because a human can come along and give one of them an order to betray or destroy the other. However, whatever trust Rin invested in Miki was worth it, and although a fully programmed machine, technically with no personality or will of its own, Miki exceeded or at least was different than the sum of its parts and software.
This is the state Rin is in as well, but she still struggles to be as selfless as Miki was. As she continues to evolve and experience more people and machines, that seems to be changing.
Disclosure: I downloaded the first four novellas in this series from the publisher Tor’s website. They were free as part of a promotion to advertise the fifth. As I’ve mentioned, at around ten to twelve dollars a pop for something 150 pages long, that’s a pretty steep profit to squeeze out of the reader, even for quality writing. Wells blocked me on twitter for mentioning it, even though it was probably Tor and not her personally who set the price (I assume she gets a healthy share of said-profits).
I’ve got one free novella left on my Kindle Fire. By now, the rest of the series is probably available through my public library system. I have no intention to defraud Wells, and if her wares were more reasonably priced, I’d gladly support her (reviews support authors, too). But if I have to spend my hard earned bucks, I’m more likely to do so supporting indie authors who are struggling even to get the smallest amount of recognition and who, in most cases, will never turn a profit doing what they love the most, writing.
Bottom line, the first three entries into The Murderbot Diaries are worth the read. But unless you’re floating in money (and who is today with all this inflation?), try to find a less expensive method of accessing these tales than paying full price. It is wonderful writing and an enjoyable journey, but we’ve got bills to pay.