Book Review of Martha Wells’ “Exit Strategy” (2018), Book 4 in the Murderbot Series


Cover art for Martha Wells’ book “Exit Strategy”

If you like my work, buy me a virtual cup of coffee at Ko-Fi.

I’m still enjoying Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries having just finished the fourth installment, Exit Strategy. I’ve already read and reviewed the first three, novellas rather than novels, really.

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.

Picking up right where the previous installment left off, Murderbot has decided to give her evidence against the CrayCris corporation directly to Dr. Mensah. However when she checks on Mensah’s whereabouts, she’s not in her home system of Preservation and figures out she has been kidnapped by GreyCris which is looking for the evidence Murderbot acquired at Milu.

Her robot ship having been diverted to a security area at her destination, she manages to sneak off and finds that an armed boarding party has been waiting for her. Deciding the memory chip was too dangerous for her to carry anymore, she “mails” it to Mensah’s family on Preservation and then is determined to find Mensah and her companions. Murderbot still considers them “clients.”

Finding passage to the corporate hub TranRollinHyfa she covertly contacts Dr. Mensah’s three companions Ratthi, Pin-Lee, Gurathin who are failing to acquire the funds to ransom Mensah’s release from GrayCris. They go through a somewhat complicated ruse designed to have GrayCris produce Mensah in a public area of the hub so Murderbot has execute a plan to rescue her. The others have acquired an armed gunship and if they can get their way on board, they’ll likely be safe.

Of course, like everything else in Murderbot’s life, this doesn’t go as planned. She does manage to free Mensah but in trying to get her off the station, she is confronted with three other SecUnits backed up by armored augmented humans. To make matters worse, one SecUnit is a CombatSecUnit which even Murderbot is not equipped to fight.

With the help of her human “friends,” after a fierce and almost fatal battle, they do escape. Their shuttle docks with the gunship and they’re on the way to a wormhole to rendezvous with a Preservation ship on the other side. They are pursued by another ship that infects their own gunship with a sapient attack bot which begins assaulting all computerized systems including augmented humans.

Murderbot figures out the attack bot’s goal is not just to kill everyone but to reacquire the evidence Murderbot has against GrayCris. Murderbot doesn’t have a copy but she does remember enough of it to lure the attacker code into a shuttle, then seal it off and release it. The ship is saved and the robot pilot begins to reassert control just as Murderbot suffers a complete systems failure.

She wakes up on a different ship surrounded by her clients but with almost no memory. Slowly, she starts putting things together again. Mensah assures Murderbot that no one will reveal her true status. She will be treated as an augmented human with complete rights and “no questions asked.” Even after arriving at Preservation Station (Murderbot is loath to go down to the planet) she spends most of her time watching media (more or less soap operas), reconstructing her memory, and avoiding people.

Once she puts herself together, having additional currency units given to her (which are illegal for her to have but what the heck), she easily bypasses station security (she’s used to hacking through much more sophisticated systems) and makes plans to leave without telling anyone. Oddly enough, she changes her mind and parks herself in Mensah’s office on the station.

After a brief conversation with Mensah’s daughter, she has a conversation with the doctor. There’s a non-corporate group interested in hiring her under her identity “Ris,” not as a SecUnit, but as an undermined security specialist. As much as Murderbot detests being around and interacting with humans, she accepts.


The first four books in Martha Wells’ “Murderbot” series

Murderbot’s personality is slowly evolving, in spite of herself. She says she protects humans because she’s programmed to, but she’s not programed to consume media. She’s long since hacked to governor so she is self directing. Yet the desire to protect her “clients” or any vulnerable humans remains particularly strong. She takes a lot of risks to fulfill that protocol.

But now that the evidence against GrayCris has been made public and the corporations are chewing them a new one for possessing illegal alien technology, this four-part story arc is over. If Wells had stopped writing Murderbot stories at this point, it would be perfectly satisfying…well, sort of. Murderbot is a completely compelling character with a lot of potential for future stories. So where does she go from here?

The pilot chapter All Systems Red won the 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, and the American Library Association’s Alex Award, and was nominated for the 2017 Philip K. Dick Award. There are two other books and two short stories in the Murderbot series. The next one in the series by publication date is Network Effect (2020). This is the only novel-length story in the Murderbot series as of this writing (and fortunately, it’s in my local public library system).


Cover art for Martha Wells’ novel “Network Effect”

Network Effect won the 2021 Nebula Award for Best Novel, the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Novel, and the 2021 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. The Murderbot Diaries won the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Series. Although Wells blocked me on twitter because I complained that charges way too much (novel-like prices) for novella-length features less than 200 pages each, I absolutely adore her writing, at least in this series.

I’ve already reserved a library copy of Network Effect and anticipate reading it when it becomes available at my local branch.

I’m not particularly keen on Tor as a publisher for a variety of reasons (which extends to the current incarnation of SF/F in general), but they really pulled an ace with Murderbot.

I should say in closing that I do keep an eye out in my escapist reading for certain signs of the author’s political and social perspectives. Yes, I know, since the dawn of literature, every writer puts their point of view in their writing, so it’s expected. However, the heavy slant in science fiction/fantasy in particular and the entire entertainment industry in general goes pretty much in one direction, as if there were no other reasonable points of view.

That’s expected and as long as it makes sense within the context of the story or is folded in so subtly that I don’t notice, that’s terrific. After all, if I want everyone’s opinions on their political and social views, I can just access social media and be immediately bombarded. When I read escapist literature, I want to escape. So far, in her writing, Wells hasn’t jarred me out of the narrative, which I appreciate. My “mission” is “Escape Strategy.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.