Read: Exit Strategy, by Martha Wells

Exit Strategy is the final segment of the very enjoyable four-part story that together is labelled the Murderbot Diaries. Would Dr Mensah welcome Murderbot back, despite the way its quest for truth had complicated the situation for the Preservation Aux scientists? Would Murderbot conquer the final assault launched against it, the at the same time both most up-front and most devious attack this far? How far is GrayCris corporation willing to go to keep the investigation into its very shady business, and will the way the Corporate Rim work protect the powerful corporation against the law?

Truthfully, these are not the real questions. This far the story has been, despite the blood, murder and atrocities going on, at heart very easy-going. To not end well would be to break character.

The real question might instead be – how on Earth an space does Martha Wells manage to present this feel-good and thus ultimately predictable story in such a way that the reader experience it as something engaging and exhilarating.

Part about it is probably due to the break-neck no-nonsense speed of the story. But at the very centre is our protagonist and guide – the inimitable, down to earth, honest and very humane vulnerability of Murderbot itself. It struggles with whom it might be, or not be, and what can be expected of it. It both like humans and want to help them, and dislike them; doesn’t want to interact, doesn’t want to engage… and still do.

I think a lot of us can identify with that balance act, but without having the excuse of not actually being human – only feeling like we’re not.

As could be expected all ends well, but on a note were we feel like we’ve been party to a prelude, a start: that while we now  leave Murderbot to its’ own devices for itself life is just beginning.

Highly recommended reading, despite the fact that the story is split in four short and rather expensive volumes.

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Read: Rogue Protocol, by Martha Wells

Rogue Protocol starts as a Murderbot book can be expected: with Murderbot in transit to yet one more point in space, having to wrangle yet more humans who it both dislike, pity, and gets attached to; all told with the special mix of self-effacement, introspection and ease that signifies this series.

As Murderbot learns more and more about itself, the lesser the degree of self-doubt, though, more and more gaining  it’s own agency. With more agency comes less introspection and self-doubt, less search for identity and more self-appointed fact-finding mission to save the face of the first human that showed Murderbot compassion.

But also a suggestion of more and more “human” qualities, more vulnerable, perhaps, to it’s own whims and judgements?

When the book ends Murderbot is on its way back to Dr Mensah. Will it reach her? How much action and how many explosions will occur along the way? Will the final rendez-vous meet up to Murderbot’s expectation, or has it’s quest been in vain? Will it even take place?

I need to get my hands on the next instalment!

Read: Artificial condition, by Martha Wells

Former SecUnit and self-named Murderbot is on the run, but also on a quest: a quest of knowledge, and ultimately self-awareness.

After having hacked it’s governor unit, the part of it’s system designed to guarantee human control over the construct, and having won partial freedom, it is now on it’s way to the planet or star system were it committed the atrocity that led it calling itself Murderbot.

On the way it encounters a curious Research Transport, a group of humanoids in need of a security consultant, a cartoon-like villain, and a CompanionUnit, aka a sexbot. It also learns something about itself, through these encounters and through it’s own quest for finding the truth about it’s past.

Murderbot is in many ways endearingly human in its insecurities, it’s self-doubt, it’s standoffishness when feeling those things, but also in it’s kindness and care for others.

Artificial condition is an action-packed space operetta, but also a warm and down to earth (or space, really) story about an individual trying to find meaning in life.

The story probably makes no sense without first having read All systems red, but both are short books, novellas, really, and well worth the time it takes to read them.

A must read if hard science fiction is your genre. And else, too.

Read: All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

All Systems Red lets us, the readers, listen in on the thoughts of a construct – a mechanical being with biological parts – as it struggles with its identity, self-determination, and relationship to humans.

The construct is nameless and genderless, explicitly so, but based on a previous incident it calls itself Murderbot; we’re listening in on the diary of Murderbot, SecUnit for hire.

As we first meet SecUnit it is attached to a small survey mission on a faraway planet, somewhere in the universe. SecUnit doesn’t particularly care, and carries out its tasks with bland indifference. It just wants to be left alone, so it can watch the latest episode of some soap opera. Then things happen, as they do in a story, kicking Murderbot off on a journey of self-discovery.

Murderbot has a very distinct voice – dry, funny, and so very human. I found it easy to relate to its struggle to fit in, and its constant feeling of being inept at the tasks set before it. It just want to live it’s life in peace, away from everything that complicates existence, but try to wrangle each situation as it is presented before it to its best ability. Much like any sentient being, really.

The story as such is not revolutionary. Science fiction is full of characters battling with what it means to be human, or what it means to have self-determination, not to mention an unique identity in an alien world. But it is told with such wit, such humour, and with such a spring in it’s step that you get sucked in into the story.

Highly recommended.

Read: Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee

Cards on the table: Yoon Ha Lee is, together with Anne Leckie, my new personal favourite authors. There are others, but these two are the latest additions to the list. I am slightly in love with Lee’s imagination and writing style; the flamboyant megalomania of a brand new universe, unlike anything else that I have encountered. The political caste-like system, the semi-magical science (semi-magical, because it seems like both scientific and magical), Lee’s writing style. Reading Ninefox Gambit I was thrown back to when I discovered William Gibson, Neil Stephenson and Jon Courtenay Grimwood, back in the mid-90’s, or later on, in the 00’s, belatedly finding Iain M Bank’s Culture novels.

No one should be surprised then that Revenant Gun, the third volume of the Machineries of Empire suite, felt a bit like a let-down. Still fantastic/al, but with a need for conclusion the story perhaps had to be reined in, and with that it stopped being sprawling and unpredictable, while at the same time being a bit too… implausible might not be the best word here, but I found it hard to find peace with how Lee handled his story ending.

In the larger picture this is such a minor objection: the book is still brilliant, still balancing a system that might be magical only because we can’t grasp the physics behind it, still written with an engaging and unique voice, still making use of the unseen “people” to tip the balance in a way no autocrat could foresee or expect.

I did like how Jedao/Keris balanced the different aspects of his/her combined personalities and experiences, being both broken and whole at the same time, and I appreciate both how he/she/they against all odds sets out to end a system that depends on terror and information control to survive, and the way they do it: by engaging the silent slaves.

Yoon Ha Lee is without doubt a valuable addition to the ranks of science fiction.

Go read his books, and buy them, so he can go on writing stories for us to read!

For those who lean that way there is a lore to dig into, provided by the master himself on his author blog (at https://www.yoonhalee.com/), and some short stories for those of us who can’t get enough of the hexarchate universe.

Read: Binti – Home, and Binti – The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor

Like the first instalment in the trilogy Home is a fast read. We follow Binti as she in a try to find her identity decides to reconnect with her family, tribe, and culture. She finds way more than she expected, learning that a neighbouring tribe that she grew up to regard as savages in some ways have evolved beyond Binti’s Himba tribe; that she is related to the savages, and that they have plans to bring her into their folds.

Her bringing her alien friend Okwu, a Meduse, with her to see her parents does not make her homecoming easier: the Meduse are at war with the Koush people who shares a planet with Binti’s people, and suspicion is rife.

The last part – The Night Masquerade – is not as easy to read. Where the first book were like a wisp of an idea, a whimsical flower, and the second fleshing it out, giving back story and context, with The Night Masquerade the idea turns into a heavy fruit. As we reconnect with Binti she is on the road back to her home village, returning from the desert. Trying out the powers that she inherited from her mysterious relatives she finds out that perhaps her family has perished.

In a vision she saw how they were under attack from the Koush people, and she is certain that they have all died during a siege, all because the Koush wants to find her; her and Okwu. As a result she decides to try to end the war between the Koush and the Meduse – a war that does not concern the Himba but affects them, as it is fought by space faring creatures down on the planet on which the Himba lives.

Binti is not easy to like. When she is afraid or feel threatened she gets arrogant, dismissing her friends and allies; people who might help her decides to not trust her; promises are broken.

Her native tribe is afraid of her, she has become an alien to them, and I want to sympathise with her for that, but if you behave the way she does in my native Sweden you will soon find yourself out of friends, out of people who will tolerate you.

In the end she does learn a thing or two about why she will not find peace of mind and a centred identity at home, but she still shies away from who she really is.

I do enjoy Okorafor’s voice, but something that I can’t put a finger on stops me from embracing the story. It’s not bad, it’s just that it doesn’t resonate with me.

Still, I do think it is worth reading, if for nothing else for the uniqueness of the perspective that Okorafor brings. And in all honesty – these three slim volumes will not take you a lot of time to read, so why not?

Read: Provenance, by Ann Leckie

I really had intended to shave some books of off the more ancient layers of the To Be Read pile, but after a couple of weeks of picking up and putting down without much progress I decided to start Ann Leckie‘s Provenance instead.

It proved to be a good choice. The backbone tale is quite formulaic and centres around a young woman and her efforts to win the favours of her adoptive mum: a classic mother-daughter tale, and a classic theme in mainstream novels. Around this basic premise Leckie manages to weave a tale that makes the impression of being anything but formulaic repetition.

Through the experiences of Ingray – the daughter – and her interactions with those around her Leckie explores power structures and power balances, both on a personal scale and a societal one. As we first makes Ingray’s acquaintance she is in the middle of a transaction central to her plan to unsettle her main competitor – her brother – and to bring disgrace to their mother’s main political enemy.

The society Ingray is born into is one were personal prestige and personal image is central for those who aim to be part of the political power. When “election season” is coming up it gets important for the contenders to look good. As in all such cases looking good doesn’t inherently mean being good, and Ingray has learned from a young age to behave in a way that will further her mother Netano’s political career. She herself feel that her only value is in furthering her mother’s career.

Through the individuals that we encounter during the run of the story we get to see the impact of power and power structures: Ingray and Garal/Pahlad and their struggles with family, birthright, inheritance and privilege; military chain of command and futility, through Commander Hatqueban and Excellency Chenns and others. Or the Radch Ambassador to the Geck – Tibanvori, a victim of political infighting.

Sometimes we just get small glimpses, though enough to make the world believable, but most of all the characters themselves feel true: they are real within their respective contexts, and act in consistence with how they are brought up to see the world.

And as always that world is not so different from our own, even as we don’t share clothing styles or pronouns: because it is not what we wear that makes us human, but who we are.

Not as profound as the Imperial Radch trilogy but still a rewarding read. And I have now added Leckie to the list of authors that I keep track of.

While this is a standalone story reading the Imperial Radch books, starting with Ancillary Justice, first adds depth to this tale.