Fugitive Telemetry: Murder on the Preservation Express

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsFugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsFugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Martha Wells continues her popular and highly-acclaimed MURDERBOT DIARIES series with another novella, Fugitive Telemetry (2021), which actually takes place before the only novel in the series so far, Network Effect. (So you could read this one before that novel, but you do need to read books 1-4 first.) At this point in time Murderbot, the introverted and snarky cyborg who is the narrator and the heart of this series, is a fairly new resident on Preservation, a planet outside of the callously capitalistic Corporate Rim. Murderbot is a companion to and protector of Dr. Mensah, one of the few humans Murderbot has gradually learned to trust. Although Preservation society isn’t entirely accepting of security bots (especially rogue ones like Murderbot that aren’t subject to human controls), it’s generally a very peaceful and progressive place.

So it’s a shock to everyone when the body of an unknown person is found in an isolated passageway of Preservation Station, the space station above the planet, clearly murdered. Station Security is charged with the investigation, with Senior Officer Indah in charge, but Mensah prevails on them to let Murderbot help, since it knows a lot more about murder than the local security force, and they want to make sure that GrayCris isn’t involved. Indah is annoyed (“but then she always looked like that when I was around”) and distrustful of working with a SecUnit. But when things get complicated, Murderbot is undeniably useful to have around.

Fugitive Telemetry is an engaging and enjoyable entry in the MURDERBOT DIARIES series, with a plot that stirs a murder mystery in with the regular science fiction adventure plot. As always, Murderbot’s snarky narration (liberally scattered with parenthetical remarks, which I love because I’m — obviously — partial to them myself) is one of the highlights. Sometimes there are even parentheses inside of parentheses:

(When we had first discussed the idea of me getting jobs as a way to encourage the Preservation Council to grant me permanent refugee status, I didn’t know very much about the kind of contract in which I was actually an active participant. (My previous contracts were rental contracts with the company, where I was just a piece of equipment.) Pin-Lee had promised, “Don’t worry, I’ll preserve your right to wander off like an asshole anytime you like.”)

 

(I said, “It takes one to know one.”)

I won’t say more about the mystery that drives the story, to avoid spoilers, but it’s a solid one, with a resolution that was both logical and a complete surprise, at least to me.

Fugitive Telemetry doesn’t really move the overall story arc forward in the way that most of the other books have, partly because it’s a prequel to the preceding novel and partly because Murderbot’s interactions with the initially hostile Indah have a been-there-done-that kind of feel. These are relatively minor complaints, though. Murderbot, though still a media-watching introvert, has come a long way from the SecUnit that had near-crippling social anxiety in All Systems Red. It interacts much better with humans now and even finds itself (somewhat begrudgingly) appreciative of its relationships with them, though its eye-rolling at humans’ logical inadequacies will probably never disappear … and that’s a good thing. We all could use a Murderbot in our lives to remind us of our shortcomings and protect us against corporate (and other) threats. Any new MURDERBOT DIARIES book shoots immediately to the top of my reading list — and it should yours as well!

~Tadiana JonesThe Murderbot Diaries


Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsFugitive Telemetry is, undeniably, a quieter (by comparison) novella within the MURDERBOT DIARIES series than its predecessors — the action all takes place on Preservation Station, there’s far more emphasis on sleuthing than explosions, and Murderbot has a lot of opportunities to reflect on what it’s been up to since setting up shop as Dr. Mensah’s extremely-capable bodyguard. It goes to live theater performances with Ratthi, cheerfully exchanges profanities with Pin-Lee, and is assisting Dr. Bharadwaj with a documentary (described in terms that make their sessions sound quite a lot like some much-needed therapy). It’s almost as though Martha Wells is examining the often-complex question of what a society is to do with combat veterans who come home from deployment and need to be re-integrated into some useful function within civilian life while confronting the long-term effects of PTSD.

Station security doesn’t trust Murderbot, for obvious and understandable reasons, which makes the sudden need for a murder investigation all the more thorny. Murderbot is allowed to assist, but in a far more limited capacity than it would prefer, as it’s been forbidden from accessing/hacking essential station AIs and systems. Frankly, those limitations work to the story’s benefit, as Murderbot’s frustration over the slow pace of detective work provides multiple opportunities for snarky commentary on humans, the various types of bots at Preservation Station (JollyBaby? Really??),  and its own self. (Moreover, Murderbot at full capacity would solve the crime in less than five minutes, which wouldn’t be nearly as fun to read.) I enjoyed how the actual mystery unfolded, and like Tadiana, was completely surprised by the resolution, though a quick skim back through the novella revealed all sorts of clues pointing toward the killer’s true identity. Well done, indeed.

Happily, Murderbot’s adventures won’t end with Fugitive Telemetry: Tor.com announced this week that three more MURDERBOT DIARIES novellas have been purchased, and I’m really excited to see the direction Wells takes this character and its story. This one is a little more thoughtful, a little more philosophical, but no less insightful or snort-inducing than Murderbot’s other adventures. I can’t wait to see how weird the next adventure is!

~Jana Nyman

Published in April 2021. No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall. When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?) Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans! Again!

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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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3 comments

  1. I am so thrilled that Martha Wells got a contract for six more Murderbot stories.

    • Jana Nyman /

      Unless I’m mistaken (which is entirely likely) my understanding was that Wells received a contract for six new works in total, three of which are Murderbot stories — but either way, it’s cause for celebration!

    • Jana is correct … but, from your mouth to Martha Wells’ ear!

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