Book Review: The Murderbot Diaries (Series 1-4) by Martha Wells
Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells
Reviewed by Kamryn Kronschnabel, Patron Services Librarian
I’ll be the first to admit it: if anyone had told me a few years ago that one my favorite protagonists
would be a (literal) killing machine whose wit and sarcasm cover up how badly it wants to be left alone
to binge television, I would have been pretty skeptical.
The first time I heard of Martha Wells’s The Murderbot Diaries, my first thought was definitely, “It’s… it’s
called Murderbot? What kind of bleak name is Murderbot?” Never mind that the series was highly
recommended and won a large number of sci-fi book awards – it ended up being chance luck that I
picked it up on Libby for a quick distraction some months later. Fortunately, my initial prejudices turned
out to be very, very wrong. The titular Murderbot is not as heartless of a killing machine as you might
believe, and this series of novellas does a great job of humanizing a protagonist who actually has no
interest in being human.
Don’t get me wrong: Murderbot is good at killing things. It’s a human-shaped construct designed for
killing things in a future that often features planetary exploration and space travel. But if Murderbot had
its way, it wouldn’t be rented out as a piece of security equipment (a “SecUnit”) by the company that
owns it. Instead, it would choose to be off by itself, not worrying about idiot humans getting themselves
into trouble, and catching up on the media it has stored in its archives... But somewhere along the line,
between disabling the company’s control modules in its brain and realizing it doesn’t know what the
heck it’s supposed to do next (or even what it wants to do), Murderbot has begrudgingly figured out
that it generally doesn’t like it when humans get hurt or die.
And therein lies the problem of the first novella: Murderbot’s clients, a group of field researchers whom
it doesn’t totally hate, might be in serious danger. After a different team of scientists become non-
responsive on the other side of an isolated planet, Murderbot assesses that there’s an unfortunately
high chance their problem might become its problem pretty soon.
While those couple of sentences only cover the plot of the first book, this series consistently has a lot of
excellent things going for it. Wells’s writing is clear and precise – there’s a lot of action that could be
confusing, but she very efficiently portrays the quick processing power you would expect from a high-
intelligence robot and does a great job communicating the physical things happening in fight sequences.
She also effectively positions Murderbot’s clientele as reader surrogates. Although the books are all
written from Murderbot’s first-person point of view, it’s clear that its clients are inclined to think of it as
dangerous rather than protective… you know, like I expected the first time I heard of the series. But
when everyone’s safety is at-risk, it means both the readers and the humans in the middle of the action
have to put aside those doubts and trust (maybe with a white-knuckled grip) that Murderbot has good
intentions and actually knows what it’s doing. And the icing on the cake: Murderbot has some important
moments of introspection throughout that helps flesh it out as a character, mainly as it tries to piece
together an incident from its past and figure out what it wants for itself (besides to hole up and watch
TV). Despite the physical books only being some 150-ish pages each, the arc of these four novellas
makes for an adrenaline-filled story, and the installments honestly get better and better as they go. (I
would know. I’ve read them three times through… so far.)
Charles City Public Library has the first four books of Martha Wells’s The Murderbot Diaries in our
physical collection (All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy), and even
more are available as ebooks and audiobooks. Check out the series online either via Libby or Hoopla, or
get our physical copies by coming into the library – call 641-257-6319 today!