I had heard good things about All Systems Red by Martha Wells, and rightly so. This novella was an utter delight. It is told in the first person from the perspective of Murderbot, a Security Robot on a planetary survey mission.
Murderbot doesn’t like its job, and doesn’t like people, and really would rather spend its time watching soap operas through its satellite feed. It has hacked its governor module, so it doesn’t actually have to obey any of its commands, but it does need to obey enough of them that it isn’t obvious that it has been hacked, otherwise someone will try to fix it. So it’s basically half-assing its job, doing as little as it can get away with, and not paying attention to anything that might not be immediately relevant because why bother. The humans it is contracted to are disposed to be friendly, but Murderbot is not. It prefers to remain in armour, with its helmet darkened so that nobody can see its face. It doesn’t want to talk to you. It doesn’t want to be your friend. It just wants you to leave it alone.
I adored Murderbot’s character. It isn’t depressed, or angry, or sad, it’s just disgruntled and antisocial, and has no interest in pretending otherwise. There are days when I would love to be that character. Of course, it does feel that its particular humans are not too bad, as humans go, and is not impressed when it seems that someone is trying to kill them, but it does not want to bond with them or be part of their team or accept favours or help from them. It does, over time, begin to like some of its humans, in a standoffish sort of way, but resents having to waste emotion on actual people. It would rather save this for fictional characters. Did I mention that I love Murderbot and want to be Murderbot when I grow up?
The story itself is well-plotted, and – hallelujah! – has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is certainly room for a sequel, but you can also stop at the end of the book having read a satisfying story. The other characters are well-drawn, and very nearly as annoyingly nice as Murderbot thinks they are, which is a pleasant change.
I really enjoyed this book (hmm, and apparently, sentient robots are a thing this year…).
I think And then there were (N-one) is still my top pick for this section, though it’s a close thing, followed by All Systems Red and Down Among the Sticks and Bones. After that, The Black Tides of Heaven, which I would like to put higher, but the ending really frustrated me. I don’t know what to do about the last two. I think Binti: Home is *part* of a better book than River of Teeth, but to my mind it remains just that – part of a book, and not a story in its own right. I’m almost tempted to put it below No Award, not because it isn’t good, but because I don’t think it’s a novella, in the sense of being a self-contained narrative. I’ll have to think more about this.