Read from March 9 to 15, 2020
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
This book was a Life's Library read, and when I first got the book in the mail, I wasn't sure what to think. While I like sci-fi, the cover of All System's Red with a robot front and center, dark colors, and the series title that included "Murderbot," it felt very ominous. Despite liking sci-fi, I don't typically like movies that are all about action and little else, and that's what the cover initially had me thinking about. But Life's Library usually picks great books, so I was going to give this one a shot.
And I'm really glad I did because it's nothing that I thought it would be from the cover. Despite the cover also being a good representation of the book.
All System's Red takes place in a world where humans live across various planets. Companies have created humanoid robots that serve various functions, with certain types of robots specializing in certain functions. Individuals or groups generally rent the robots from the company for a set time period, and then the robots are returned to the company to be rented out again. In between being rented out, the robots "live" at the company.
Murderbot, the main character of the book, has begun calling itself Murderbot. That isn't the name the company or anyone else gave it. It's "proper" name is a Security Unit, or SecUnit, and as its name suggests, it's meant to be used for security. Murderbot has taken to calling itself that because it's aware of how easily it could kill everyone, even though it's choosing not to.
We learn early in the book that Murderbot has overridden its governor module, so it doesn't actually have to obey people like it should. Still, Murderbot is choosing to follow orders. All it really wants to do is watch soap operas, which it does constantly. All of which creates a fascinating premise that had me hooked immediately.
The way robots work in this universe also creates an interesting problem for readers. Robots are referred to using "it" pronouns, which is quite jarring and raises a number of interesting questions. First, how much of a person is Murderbot, considering it's not living and has been programmed to behave a certain way? (A question that's particularly fascinating with Murderbot compared to other robots because Murderbot no longer has a governor module controlling its actions.)
That answer to that question has implications for the system in this world too. Robots are treated like property by both the company and the people who rent them. Referring to them as "it" reinforces the idea that they're only objects, and it distances people from feeling any guilt for treating them as property. Are people wrong to do that? Well, it depends on how much personhood robots actually have, and Murderbot, having overridden its governor module, complicates a lot of those beliefs.
Overall, All Systems Red was an incredibly fun read while also raising some fascinating questions about problems we may face in our own future. Since it's a novella, it's also a very quick read. There are other novellas in the series and even a novel now. I will absolutely be reading them because I grew to love Murderbot even over the course of a novella, and I absolutely need more.