Non-Blog | Channing Whitaker

What I've Been Reading: August 2021


Fugitive Telemetry (Wells, 2021) - This is the 6th installment in Martha Wells' Murderbot Diaries series. Each book is a novella centered on the life of a sentient combat, security android. I've been along for the ride through the first 5 books, and they are fast reads, so I gave Fugitive Telemetry a try. 

One aspect that endears these books and this character to readers is the unique main character, the Murderbot. It's sarcastic, pessimistic, and often humorous and the story is told first-person by Murderbot, complete with its internal monologue. Readers see the world through the character's view in each book, and we're privy to its thoughts alone. 

What it is not is a robotic, cold and calculating machine. The character is more like the cartoon cat Garfield. Its default attitude is that no matter what situation comes its way, it would rather just assume not be bothered. 

Sometimes this same unique and funny aspect can start to wear me out, and for this, I think the story is better kept at a shorter length, a novella as Wells does. To be longer, I think we'd need a break from Murderbot's mind. 

Ok, so that said, what about this story? Through the previous five books, Wells has slowly been piecing us out a back story for Murderbot, which we are aware involves corporate espionage and cover-ups. We're led to believe Murderbot may even have done something, such as murdering innocent humans, that makes it worthy of the fear the people around it have. But Murderbot doesn't remember. This is a fascinating overarching plot, but we basically abandon it in this installment for some reason. 

Murderbot has reached the safest, most stable place it's ever been, and it catches the case of a human murder to solve. The case is compelling enough. What we learn as the mystery is solved teaches us more about the world the story takes place in, including social problems in the far reaches of space. However, for Murderbot, we don't see any new information. 

Before, since we are in Murderbots mind, whenever new details of its past are exposed, we learn them right along with the character. We see the character react, change, develop as it learns about itself. Thus, the lack of advancing this external plot also means we don't get any character development in this book. As a result, Murderbot doesn't finish the story much differently off than where it began. That was a bit of a disappointment. 

It was still a cool word, it's a decent mystery, and the book's funny in many places. I'll give the series the benefit of the doubt that this might tie into the next installment and end up meaning more to the character than it appears now.

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