Book Review – Network Effect by Martha Wells

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Network Effect is the fifth entry in The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. It’s the first full length novel of the series. The previous 4 Murderbot stories have all been novellas. The series follows an AI “SecUnit”, an android whose responsibility is to protect those who it is contracted to, named Murderbot. Murderbot has gained some freedoms not usually afforded to bots and much of the series’ charm comes from Murderbot trying to understand the human condition.

Network Effect finds Murderbot back with the same crew, navigating the new experience of being something more akin to a full member of the crew, rather than a corporate owned bot contracted for security. This dynamic continues to be the most interesting aspect of the series. Reading as Murderbot tries to understand, and is frequently confounded by, human behavior is genuinely funny. It helps fill in the gaps as the story moves from point A to point B, leaving room for plenty of levity in what is otherwise an action-packed sci-fi plot. It also helps make for one of the more relatable sci-fi characters in recent memory. Like many of us, Murderbot spends much of its time wondering the what and whys of human behavior and why so much of what we do makes absolutely no sense.

Fans of the previous entries will find a lot of their favorites returning. Wells found a good way to knit together the previous plots seeded in the first four novellas into the larger plot in Network Effect. I have to say it’s refreshing to get to stay with Murderbot and the other characters for a full-length book. The extra breathing room let’s Wells expand in areas where she may have had to trim some excess before, allowing for further development both character and plot-wise.

An interesting early theme of the book is how Murderbot learns to deal with trauma. Without spoiling, there are some traumatic events that occur that leave Murberbot trying to process emotions that it finds to be silly in humans. Hearing the internal monologue as Murderbot begins identifying the symptoms of a response to trauma occurring to its “systems” that it’s observed in humans, while simultaneously noting the observed uselessness of those same emotions in humans, is a great bit of writing. It’s abundantly clear to companions that Murderbot’s mental state is being affected, even if Murderbot is blind to it. These asides and small details from Wells are what drive such a strong connection to a character that is inherently quite different than anyone who’s reading on the surface. There are a lot of similar character beats here as we’ve seen in the earlier Murderbot Diaries stories. Murderbot’s continued annoyance at human behavior, while simultaneously adopting and identifying more of said behavior in its own programming is always delightful.

Network Effect isn’t all character study, though. There’s plenty of sci-fi action to be found throughout. Murderbot isn’t named ironically. There’s just as much ass-kicking, systems hacking, and space thrills we’ve come to expect from the series. I really enjoy this kind of semi-hard sci-fi. There’s nothing here that makes you believe it couldn’t well happen in the not-so-distant future.

Network Effect is sure to give fans of the Murderbot series more of what they love. That it comes in novel-length this time around is especially welcome. Martha Wells has managed to create a universe that is original, thrilling, and witty and I’m looking forward to future entries in the series. There can never be enough good sci-fi series and The Murderbot Diaries is one of the most enjoyable going right now.

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