Life isn’t easy in the great, wide universe. Especially if you’re a SecUnit who’s hacked your governor module in order to watch thousands of hours of human media feeds. Or if you’re responsible for the health and safety of a crew of humans who seem just so incredibly bent on getting themselves killed, either on standard survey missions or in attempted hostile incursions from the Corporation Rim. Despite the downsides of caring for humans (most notably, caring for them interferes with television time), Murderbot is content with its position within Preservation Station and with the life and associates it has collected over the years. But when an old acquaintance kidnaps Murderbot’s crew and demands its help as ransom, Murderbot is forced away from the media feed to save the day (again) and get its humans back safe and sound.
Network Effect is the first novel-length work in Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries saga and the fifth entry in the series overall. Like Wells’ previous novellas starring Murderbot, Network Effect is a masterclass in tone. Murderbot’s sarcastic, adolescent humor suffuses the book, giving readers the distinct feeling of reading real-time logs directly off Murderbot’s strange, twisted core processor. The result is, at times, laugh-out-loud insights into human behavior. At others, it’s the feeling of intruding on someone as they try to understand exactly how to relate to their fellow sentient beings—and often fail. Despite its name, Murderbot is the most awkwardly human character to come out of science fiction in a long time.
Of course, Network Effect is far from a book on philosophy. If it is, it’s a book on philosophy wrapped in the perfect space opera, full of mysterious alien remnants, thrilling firefights inside of sentient space ships and political and corporate intrigue. Wells’ fight scenes are kinetic and tactical, juxtaposing visceral descriptions of Murderbot’s organic parts sloughing off with occasionally balletic fight sequences between Murderbot, its drones and whatever targets it happens to be facing off against. The result is not for the overly squeamish, but it is also gory within reason. After all, Network Effect is a book based in humor as much as it is in action.
New readers to the Murderbot Diaries universe need not fear; although it is well worth your time to go back and binge-read the first four novellas in the series, Network Effect delivers on its promise as a stand-alone story (one that, somehow, miraculously, only contains a few spoilers for the rest of the series). Although not every relationship is explained to its fullest, the book contains everything readers need to know about Murderbot and its team. And for longtime students of the many (mostly sarcastic or mildly annoyed) moods of Murderbot, this will be a satisfying return to some fan-favorite characters. No matter your background with sentient murder robots, Network Effect is the perfect fare for any seeking the perfect weekend binge read or escapist vacation.