Reviews

Novella Review: ROGUE PROTOCOL (The Murderbot Diaries #3), by Martha Wells

 

And once more we journey through the galaxy in the company of our soap-opera-loving fugitive SecUnit, still searching for answers about the shady corporation GrayCris and on the alleged bloody rampage that caused it to kill its clients in a previous assignment – a circumstance that with time and the evidence that MurderBot is collecting keeps looking more and more dubious.   Once it learns from the news that its former mentor/protector Dr. Mensah is being targeted with pointed questions about the runaway SecUnit that Mensah took under her wing, MurderBot understands that it might be GrayCris’ way of trying to deflect attention from their crooked operations, and sets about to find more – and more damning – evidence about the big bad corporation’s misdeeds.

For someone who purports not to like humans, MurderBot keeps spending a LOT of time with them: in this instance, to reach an area where it might find some important clues about GrayCris’ illegal operations, MB finds itself on a transport full of quarrelsome humans who keep calling on it to quell their disputes, that often become very physical. Even in the almost dispassionate voice with which the SecUnit relays its story, it’s easy to read the extreme satisfaction derived by the opportunity to order those cantankerous passengers to shut up – something it never had an opportunity of doing in its previous occupation. And also an act that allows it to vent some of its pent-up frustration for not being able to watch as many episodes of Sanctuary Moon as its mechanical (?) heart desires…

The SecUnit’s satisfaction about finally being free of those insufferable passengers is however short-lived, since it needs to reach a station orbiting another failed terraforming experiment handled by GrayCris, and the only available ship transports more humans and a very friendly, almost childlike bot, Miki, who is our protagonist’s polar opposite, since it does not only like humans, but calls them ‘friends’ and acts like an overeager puppy in its interactions with them.  The need for stealth requires MB to enroll Miki’s assistance in its attempt to fly under the radar, and that exposes the SecUnit to an allegedly unwelcome onslaught of feelings that often make it regret the loss of ART, whose scholarly approach to problems was more in line with MB’s outlook.  At least on the surface.

Yes, because there are several instances in which the easy relationship between Miki and its human companions, the way they treat him as one of them, worrying for its well-being and safety, prompts a very unusual reaction in our SecUnit, one that it defines as the need to “have an emotion in private” – and there is no amount of snarky cynicism applied to that sentence that can cover the true nature of that emotion, that to me looks suspiciously like envy.   MurderBot has changed a great deal since we met it, and even though it’s not ready to acknowledge these changes – that have nothing to do with the exterior modifications it applied to itself and everything to do with the experiences accumulated since the hacking of its governor module – it’s easy to see how much more… well… human it’s becoming, and how scary that must be, even though it’s not a thought the SecUnit cares to dwell on.

The amazing – and highly entertaining – side of Rogue Protocol is that all these musings, all these questions that plague MurderBot about the nature of humans and artificial constructs, and their interactions, all occur in the course of an adrenaline-rich chase through an abandoned station where Miki’s scientists are attacked to keep them from unearthing GreyCris’ crooked operations on the planet below.  So MB finds itself once again forced to keep these humans safe, and this time it does so at the cost of heavy physical damage that might not be so easy repairable as it was when it used to be a bona fide SecUnit: the dichotomy between the dramatic situation and MurderBot’s reactions to it and to the injuries it sustains ended up being the source of much hilarity on my part – it might not sound too charitable, but all those repeated instances of “Oh shit! Oh shit!” and “Ow!” as a consequence of said situations and injuries are quite funny when rendered in MurderBot’s not-so-detached present attitude.

I needed help. I was rattled, I was still leaking a little, and I hadn’t been able to watch any media in what felt like forever.

On the other hand, the battle for survival makes for an incredibly quick reading – what used to be defined as a ‘page turner’ – and it’s relayed with such a detailed, cinematic quality that it’s easy to picture the scenes in one’s mind, and even easier to think that this could be the perfect material for a spectacular movie or a TV series: think about ambushes, energy weapons discharging along deserted corridors where every corner might hide a deadly danger, combat bots on the rampage, and any other dramatic device you could imagine.

In the end, Rogue Protocol – even more than its predecessors – does not feel like a short novella but rather like a full-fledged novel, one that successfully packs a great deal of action, information and character development into a surprising small number of pages, and that’s the reason it does not leave us unsatisfied (as it’s often the case with these shorter works), but rather eagerly anticipating the next installment and the novel-length book that was recently announced.  No matter where MurderBot will go next, I will be following without hesitation…

 

My Rating: 

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