Network Effect

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Network Effect [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Martha Wells, book 5 of the Murderbot Diaries series.

Wells Network Effect

After the four prior novellas (to be fair, the last two really were full novels, if short ones), this fifth Murderbot diary is about twice the length of any of the ones to precede it. The story makes for reading just as compulsive as the others. In many ways, this one is Artificial Condition 2.0, revisiting and expanding on the protagonist’s relationship with the intimidating research starship AI who had been introduced in the second book.

The functional ways in which sf readers can identify with Murderbot really jumped out at me this time, even though most of them had been present through the earlier stories. In particular, the construct’s appetite for “entertainment media” distractions (like mine for the book I was reading) and its ability to attend to coded inputs outside of direct sensory experience (like mine to the book I was reading) provide a vertiginous mirroring for the reader. The resonance of the Corporation Rim interstellar governance with US-imperial neoliberal nightmare was increasingly vivid, this time amplified with a focus on the dynamics of settler colonialism and its cruelty to the colonists, let alone any indigenes.

One interlude offered a little reflection on Murderbot’s unwillingness to use the proper name of the bond company that originally owned (and presumably built) it. I have been wondering if a future book will include a revelation that explicitly identifies that malefic corporation with some actual 21st-century commercial or political entity.

There were a couple of clever twists, but the plot was pretty well determined and predictable prior to the action climax, which thus had a little premature feeling of denouement. Still, I did enjoy the book all the way to the end. As usual, the AI characters were better defined and more compelling than the humans, but as Murderbot has come to understand itself better, affections and motivations regarding humans in the story have become clearer and more interesting. The arc of the relationship between Murderbot and Mensah’s daughter Amena was a highlight.