Network Effect: Complex connections with friends and enemies

Network Effect by Martha Wells science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsNetwork Effect by Martha Wells science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsNetwork Effect by Martha Wells

Martha Wells’ Murderbot has been gathering enthusiastic fans (which would be certain to have Murderbot hiding behind its opaque armored faceplate), along with multiple Nebula, Hugo and other awards and nominations, as each of the first four novellas in the MURDERBOT DIARIES series has been published over the last three years. In Network Effect (2020), the first full-length novel in this series, Wells is able to explore a more complex plot and to more fully develop Murderbot’s character and its relationships with others.

Murderbot is now with Dr. Mensah and the other Preservation Station characters who Murderbot was protecting in the first book, All Systems Red, and the fourth, Exit Strategy. Preservation is an unusually liberal society in this universe, where single-minded, coldhearted corporate profit-making is the norm, and Mensah and her family and friends treat Murderbot, who they call “SecUnit,” as a person rather than as a possession. Mensah’s brother-in-law Thiago, however, is suspicious of Murderbot’s influence over Mensah, and Mensah’s adolescent daughter Amana considers Murderbot an annoyance, especially after it scared off someone she thought was a romantic interest (“Yes, it was hilarious”).

As Network Effect begins, Murderbot is accompanying Thiago, Amana and several others on a survey expedition of another planet. After surviving an encounter with pirates — where Murderbot gets a chance to flex its muscles and show its expertise as a security consultant — the group lifts off the planet to rejoin their base ship in space. Just after the base ship exits a wormhole on its return to Preservation Station, there’s another attack on their group. This one succeeds in capturing Murderbot and Amena in their spacesuits and pulling them onboard the raider ship. Murderbot is completely bewildered to discover that the ship that attacked them is its old friend ART (an acronym for “Asshole Research Transport”) from Artificial Condition. But ART, the powerful artificial intelligence that controls the ship Perihelion, is nowhere to be found once they’re onboard the ship. Instead there are gray-skinned hostile humans that immediately try to kill Murderbot. Now it’s on!

The bot and AI characters — Murderbot, ART, and a couple of new ones — are absolutely fantastic. Murderbot’s and ART’s friendship (though Murderbot would be really reluctant to call it a friendship) gets a lot more complicated and real, especially after Murderbot thinks ART has betrayed it. One of the subplots features sentient killware, a lethal kind of spyware/malware, which was one of the best parts of this book, fascinating and unexpectedly poignant. Murderbot takes some substantial steps forward in its self-understanding and in deciding what it wants to do with its life. The right of self-determination for all sentient intelligences is an ongoing theme in Network Effect.

The Murderbot Diaries In addition to Murderbot’s favorite human Dr. Mensah, a couple of other human characters start to stand out, including Mensah’s daughter Amena, who has a way of cutting through Murderbot’s protective shell. Wells has a degree in anthropology, which explains a lot about how well she writes the relationships and interactions between people and bots in this series. The title “Network Effect” has at least two different meanings: it’s a key aspect of the enemy Murderbot and its friends and allies face in this novel, but it also references the growing and changing ties between Murderbot and its human and non-human friends. Murderbot still hates the F-word — that would be “feelings” — and it likes to snark about humans’ stupid decisions, but it’s now willing to admit that it cares about people and actually enjoys helping and protecting them.

A little of the tension went out of her body. “Thank you.” Her face looked younger. She looked like she had been pretending to have hope and now she didn’t have to pretend anymore.

 

(Confession time: that moment, when the humans or augmented humans realize you’re really here to help them. I don’t hate that moment.)

Network Effect isn’t perfect: the pace lags in parts and the plot gets overly convoluted and confusing in the second half. One significant aspect of the key danger that the characters face doesn’t make sense to me logically. HIGHLIGHT TO REVEAL SPOILER: It’s an alien malicious code that needs to be passed from machine to humans to machines as it infects and takes over and controls you. No good reason is given for this odd quirk. [END SPOILER]

But the good parts of Network Effect are just SO good that they completely outweigh any plot weaknesses. One more example: There’s a bit with some “HelpMe.file” excerpts that Wells uses to good effect to relate some of the backstory. They’re initially a bit of a headscratcher, if only because of their odd headers, but when the payoff comes much later in the book, it’s a brilliant plot turn.

Murderbot — both the character and the series — has grown on me immensely with each book in the series. Murderbot may be a cyborg, but it’s one of the most human and appealing characters I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

~Tadiana Jones


Network Effect by Martha Wells science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsNot having read any of the previous entries in Martha Wells’ MURDERBOT DIARIES series, I wasn’t sure how well Network Effect would work as an entry point, but I’m pleased to be able to say that it holds up really well. Wells provides a good amount of backstory, with a myriad of tempting tidbits that only made me want to check out more of the series.

Murderbot itself is utterly fascinating, and the ongoing internal drama of its explorations into self-determination was as compelling as the overarching narrative concerning ART’s missing crew, grey-skinned humanoids, Murderbot’s humans, and various factions fighting over control of galactic expansion and terraforming. I chortled, I sniffled, I cheered, and I kept wishing Timestream Defenders Orion and Lineages of the Sun were real media to stream.

Obviously, I need to start over from the beginning, with All Systems Red, and will do so at the earliest possible chance.

~Jana Nyman

Published in May 2020. Martha Wells’ New York Times and USA Today bestselling Murderbot series exploded onto the scene in 2017, and the world has not been the same, since. Murderbot returns in its highly-anticipated, first, full-length standalone novel, Network Effect.  You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you’re a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you’re Murderbot. Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century. I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90 plus percent of my problems are. When Murderbot’s human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action. Drastic action it is, then.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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2 comments

  1. I love this series and have this loaded on my ipad just waiting to read. Can’t wait!! Such and interesting series.

  2. I’m so much in love with this series. I want as many books as possible in this world. Eagerly waiting for the next one – Fugitive Telemetry. Although it’s not as long as Network Effect.

    I’ve written a book review on my blog of Network Effect. You can check it out – https://www.jaydeepparmar.in/2020/06/network-effect-by-martha-wells-book.html

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