Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Posted by Jessi (Geo) on March 6, 2020 | 0 Comments

Review: All Systems Red by Martha WellsAll Systems Red by Martha Wells
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1
Published by Tor (5.2.2017)
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Format: Paperback, 149 pages
Source: Library

2.5 Stars

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.

My thoughts

Being only 149 pages, this book was super quick and easy to read. Which I’m grateful for, because the beginning was a struggle for me. Despite the short length, it still took me nearly 80 pages to become invested, and even then there was one reason and one reason only I cared at all: Murderbot.

So, I’m awkward with actual humans. It’s not paranoia about my hacked governor module, and it’s not them; it’s me. I know I’m a horrifying murderbot, and they know it, and it makes both of us nervous, which makes me even more nervous. Also, if I’m not in the armor then it’s because I’m wounded and one of my organic parts may fall off and plop on the floor at any moment and no one wants to see that.

Murderbot was absolutely fantastic and was 100% the ONLY reason this book got 3 stars from me. I love that it was basically an introverted android with extreme social anxiety. It was quite relatable, actually! It preferred watching shows to the company of humans, and avoided contact with humans as much as possible. It even hid behind its helmet so that it wouldn’t have to make eye contact because it was completely awkward and shy (yet still sarcastic which = awesome). It was kind of adorable that it referred to the crew as “my humans” and I loved that it showed little signs of caring even though it was supposed to be a killing machine (Murderbot was even the name it gave itself).  I quite loved Murderbot!

“So you don’t have a governor module, but we could punish you by looking at you.”
“Probably, right up until I remember that I have guns built into my arms.”

Other than Murderbot, though, this book really doesn’t have much going for it. Maybe it’s because I read a lot of sci-fi, but the world building was subpar, mediocre at best. You’re pretty much thrown into the world with no backstory or explanation. Over the course of the novella, I managed to pick up the gist of most of it, but still couldn’t quite grasp the structure of the world. We get more world building in the synopsis than we do the actual book.

The side characters fell completely flat. Absolutely none of them are described, so for the first 100 pages or so, they were all interchangeable in my mind. It didn’t help that none of them had any real personality, either. They were just bodies fulfilling their purpose in the plot. I also hated the prose. The writing was a mess. It was super choppy and awkward, especially in the beginning. Here’s the first paragraph:

I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, series, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.

Holy commas, batman. The idea of the first paragraph should have hooked me immediately – the last line, paired with a murderous bot downloading media for entertainment? Yeah, that would have rocked me if the second sentence hadn’t given me an immediate headache. It was also a lot of telling – “I went here, I did this, this happened, then that happened,” very clinically with zero feeling whatsoever (which is probably because Murderbot is a bot, but the execution was honestly terrible). I was extremely distracted by the prose in the beginning and had trouble focusing on the actual story. It did get better as the book went along, but the writing created a major disconnect for me. Between that and my apathy toward everything else except Murderbot, I didn’t care very much about what was happening.

This book has insanely high reviews, and I have to admit that my expectations were sky high going in. I was sure that this book would rock my socks (it was even one of my 5 star predictions), so color me disappointed that it didn’t. Baa, baa, black sheep.

Overall Assessment

Plot: 3/5
Premise: 4/5
Writing style: 2/5
Originality: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
World-building: 2/5
Pace: 4/5
Feels: 1/5
Overall rating: 2.5/5

Jessi (Geo)

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