A detail of the cover of All Systems Red, showing a humanoid figure in what can only be described as a full suit of space armor

All Systems Red Gobsmacked Me

by | Oct 28, 2021 | 0 comments

All Systems Red Gobsmacked Me

The cover of All Systems Red. It features a humanoid figure in space armor. Across the top is the name Martha Wells. Along the bottom is the title All Systems Red, and the words "Hugo and Nebula Award Winner"
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On the surface, All Systems Red is about a scientific expedition to another planet that runs into trouble and terror when another scientific expedition is murdered. It is narrated by a security robot that hacked its governor module and named itself “murderbot.”

Below the surface, it’s about trust, respect for those who differ, and the absolute necessity of self-determination.

The two things that make All Systems Red stand out to me are the narrative style and the nature of the murderbot.

The murderbot itself is the socially awkward, introverted person I was in high school. Like me, it would rather read or watching TV than anything work related. Like me, it doesn’t enjoy being around people or being looked at. Like me, it went to some extreme lengths to avoid doing what it was told.

The narrative style is robotic, if the world allows for robots that make snarky and amusing asides. We never see murderbot react emotionally. It does its job—protecting the fleshbags in the expedition—and does it well. It thinks ahead, ignores the rules when necessary, and comes up with creative plans to ensure that everyone is safe.

Along the way, it makes laconic and sarcastic asides that would be unintentionally funny were the murderbot real. It’s like having a slightly cynical, dispassionate commentator relating the facts about a horrific tragedy and it’s often hilarious.

I won’t spoil the end, but as murderbot and the fleshbags are investigating the murders, and taking evasive actions, the fleshbags question whether they can trust murderbot. Of course they do. It’s a robot that murdered dozens of people and named itself murderbot.

But as the story progresses, the fleshbags learn more of murderbot and murderbot learns more of the fleshbags. It’s exactly the kind of thing we fleshbags should do more of. The murderbot recognizes what’s happening and understands that some fleshbags treat it more like a person than others while still recognizing that belonging to any fleshbag is inherently inhuman.

I don’t think I can say anything more about it without spoiling everything, so I’m just going to end with this. If murderbot had obeyed the rules, everyone would have died.


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