All Systems Red

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Back in May, Reason editor Katherine Mangu-Ward recommended Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells as her weekly recommendation on the magazine's podcast. It was the sixth entry in the author's "Murderbot Diaries" series.

I decided, sensibly enough, to start with book one. The Kindle version was (and, as I type, still is) cheap at Amazon. (It's relatively short, print version slightly over 150 pages, but I'm still counting it as a book.) Bottom line: it wasn't bad, but I wasn't sufficiently in love with it to adopt a new "Murderbot" reading project.

Here's the story, as far as I understood it: in the future, planets are examined for possible exploitation by survey teams under control of The Company. As this is a dangerous task, they are accompanied by "SecUnits", unholy cyborg-like melds of heavily-armed robot and human. The book is narrated by one of those, and he's dubbed himself "Murderbot", due to an unpleasant past incident that involved numerous human fatalities. He's self-hacked his operating system, evading the software updates the Company pushes down to him, and overriding his "governor module", which is supposed to prevent him from doing that multiple-homicide thing. He uses his cyber-freedom mostly to download and watch episodes of Sanctuary Moon, a future soap opera.

He (nevertheless) is reluctantly brave, and becomes attached to his survey team, throwing himself into gory peril when they are being threatened by hostile planetary fauna, or (worse) targeted for extermination by shadowy human forces. It's a near thing, but (as noted) this is book one of six, so you're pretty much assured he lives to murder another day.

Some Amazon reviewers are relatively furious about the marketing, getting readers hooked on this cheap first installment, then charging a lot more for the next books. If you're the kind of person who gets upset about such things, maybe you should avoid.