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.
Warnings: body horror, mass killings
Note: This novella is not YA, but suitable for teens
The novella grabs you from the first page itself, by the line “As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure” which is a unique take in of itself in a sea of books, visual media, game media, etc that are about sentient AI – either they are benevolent or they are going to have an uprising. Murderbot, as they call themselves, is not interested in all that – they just want to left alone in peace to watch their favorite shows on the entertainment feed, which is lovable quality in someone who has ample reason to resent humans. They are a Security Unit assigned by their company when clients go exploring on some planet, and currently they are accompanying a research group doing exploratory studies on a mostly unexplored planet when certain suspicious malfunctions start happening. Having done the bare minimum of security since they hacked their own governor module, Murderbot has to now rise up to the challenge to save their current humans who seem to be the subject of sabotage or attack.
Firstly, Murderbot is an introvert to the point of being a misanthrope, and hiding their autonomy from the humans makes them distant from them. Additionally, they aren’t exactly comfortable with interacting with them socially or talking about their feelings, so despite the warm and close knitted group of researchers that are their charge, Murderbot doesn’t have any inclination of getting close to them, despite their best efforts to treat them as human. Saving them means interacting with them, though, and keeping their trust, and Murderbot questions whether it is the wisest decision to get involved in it. They protect them nevertheless – there is a point where Murderbot is enraged by the killing of human charges which calls into question whether they are doing it because of being used to it as a job, or is there the teensiest bit of affection for this group of humans who treat Murderbot way better than any other client ever has.
The writing and pacing for this novella are quite perfect – for a ~100 page book, it packs in enough action, details about world-building to build a quick-paced storyline in a world we can understand. The decision Murderbot takes at the ending is quite an interesting one, considering the growth through the book, and I was hedging on whether to round down or up – ultimately I decided that the first chapter itself provided enough information as to why Murderbot would decide that, when they are being given what they wanted, almost.