Book Review: All Systems Red, The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells

A fast paced intriguing novella by Martha Wells takes us into the from the Murderbot Diarieshead of a android, who finds his way free of the Company’s command. When the Company assigned the droid to a human survey team as insurance, Murderbot, as he calls himself, turns off his command module. Acting as a free agent he plans to fulfill his mission, regardless of the danger.

Wells addresses issues of ‘cyber sentience’, ‘droid rights’, and ‘droid consciousness’ in her Murderbot Diaries series. Although an admitted killer, the robot has a sense of rightness, preferences and its commitments are clear.  His personality roughly exhibits aspects of what some may attribute to Asperger’s.

Murderbot

Martha Wells brings her robot to life for readers. It becomes yet another one of her unique characters to root for.

Book Review: All Systems Red, The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha WellsAll Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1) by Martha Wells
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1
Published by Tor.com on May 2nd 2017
Genres: Novella, Science Fiction
Pages: 144
Goodreads

A murderous android discovers itself in All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that blends HBO's Westworld with Iain M. Banks' Culture books.

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Book Review of Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor’s novella entertains while addressing racial prejudices. Okorafor, one of today’s science fiction rising stars, integrates what she ‘knows’ by drawing from her Nigerian family experience and trips to Africa. As with many great sci-fi writers she tackles social issues in other world sceneries with aplomb. Racism is forefront in Binti. Our empathy becomes so closely tied to  the protagonist, that we can’t help but question what we would do in Binti’s place.

by Nnedi Okorafor

Okorafor leads us to believe that we will learn about Binti’s trials as the only one like her at the most elite university of her species. Laced with racial innuendos, issues of perspective and misconceptions about those one judges predominates the first half of the story.

Okorafor then turns that theme upside down. When the transport ship falls to an alien species and everyone except Binti dies, she finds herself the linchpin between species. Her challenge becomes staying alive. At this point, her race is both her blessing and curse. She must confront her fear of loosing her complete identity, not just as a minority within her species, but as a species. The twists that transpire intrigue on both the storytelling level and the emotional level.

Chapter 1 Analysis of Okorafor’s Binti

For those interested in writing: I embarked on a study of opening chapters a few months ago in the hopes of learning from other writers. Every writer has strength which they have honed in their opening chapter. Their commitment to their strengths means a great deal in the success of their writing style, especially in Chapter One. Writing styles vary. Each narrative voice comes through with unique distinction. Undoubtedly, an author’s style will charm some readers while turning others off.  Regardless, a writer’s commitment to their strengths appear paramount.

I found writers who break all the rules that teachers impart to me and have come to believe that when an author’s writing style rings true, than that style should be used, regardless of a pundit’s advise.

As a novella, I wondered whether Binti‘s beginning would be different than longer novels. Okorafor does not use standard chapters, so I studies the first 2,739 words, an approximate chapter.

Written in first person we quickly become immersed into Binti’s world and feel a familiarity with her. No lengthy descriptions orient or bore the reader. Instead setting descriptions sprinkled throughout scenes and internal thoughts continually remind us where the story takes place.

Backstory accounts for over a third of opening scenes. Although many teachers baulk at pulling the reader out of a scene with backstory, in sci-fi world building the technique works well. Okorafor’s success including backstory largely works because of her choice of content. Well chosen details provide insight and intrigue. In many case the backstories also create the feeling that one is eavesdropping on Binti.

Okorafor uses simple language to create pictures. Although she uses some wonderful action verbs, power words don’t ever dominate  the scenes. Instead, repeating words such as “whisper” creates both a link throughout the text, as well as, creating mood. She keeps a nice flow with sentence cadences that read easily. Plenty of double alliterations accelerate the feel of read. (Such as “…promise to pay…”

Okorafor sprinkles similes liberally throughout. This enhances images and provides another window into the other worldliness of Binti’s environs.

Book Review of Binti by Nnedi OkoraforBinti (Binti, #1) by Nnedi Okorafor
Series: Binti #1
Published by Tor.com on September 22nd 2015
Genres: Novella, Science Fiction
Pages: 96
Goodreads

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.