Book Review: Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 3 of The Murderbot Diaries
Publisher: Tor.com (August 7, 2018)
Length: 158 pages
Murderbot’s back again in Rogue Protocol, the third installment in Martha Wells’ series of sci-fi novellas about a rogue A.I. who has broken free of its SecUnit programming, but all it wants is to be left alone to enjoy its thousands of hours of entertainment vids in peace. Well, that is until recently, when Murderbot discovered that GrayCris, the corporation behind the attacks that almost killed the scientists on the expedition that started this whole mess, is up to no good again. Whatever they’re doing might be worth investigating, so before long, Murderbot once more finds itself on a transport ship traveling to its destination with another group of humans that needs protecting.
Fortunately, due to some recent modifications, Murderbot is able to pass itself off as an augmented human, presenting itself to the other passengers as Rin, a security expert. But a hitch in this plan occurs unexpectedly, when Murderbot realizes that one of the group is an android named Miki who is accompanying its human on this mission as a—colleague? friend? pet? Murderbot can’t quite make sense of the relationship, but Miki’s presence is something of a concern since the other bot would know there is something more to “Rin” than meets the eye. Eventually though, every team member—whether human or A.I.—becomes an invaluable asset as their ship arrives at the planet where a defunct GrayCris terraforming facility awaits, not quite willing yet to spill all its secrets.
Maybe it was the fast-paced plot, or the fact this was probably the most suspenseful and action-oriented installment so far, but Rogue Protocol felt like a very short read. I blew through it in a little more than an hour, which should tell you at least how much I enjoyed it. At this point though, I would expect nothing less from a Murderbot novella; they’ve become my go-to books for reliable entertainment.
But as I’ve noted before in my reviews of the previous volumes, the Murderbot Diaries is also a surprisingly introspective and conceptual approach to our understanding of human nature, specifically asking the question “What does it mean to be human?” Granted, most of it is seen through Murderbot’s eyes, whose unique attitude and perspective on the matter certainly injects a lot of humor into it. Still anti-social and as snarky as ever, our protagonist is nevertheless evolving into something different—definitely not a mere program anymore, but at the same time, not quite human yet either. It’s hard to put a description on this “in-between” state of being, but it’s definitely integral to what makes Murderbot such a fantastic and interesting character, and the refreshing originality of its narrative voice is also why these books are so fun to read.
As ever, Murderbot is trying to figure things out. And it’s not just what GrayCris is up to either. Our protagonist is also trying to work out what makes humans tick. If it wants to be able to pass as one of them (strictly for practical reasons, of course), it knows it has to learn. It also wants to understand what it is gradually becoming. After all, these pesky things known as human emotions are baffling and worrisome. So far, we’ve seen Murderbot picking up these social cues as it learns from observing humans and watching its beloved cheesy soap operas. For the last two books, however, Wells has also introduced a third way for Murderbot to discover more about its programming: by comparing itself to other bots. In Artificial Condition, we met ART, who gave Murderbot a whole new perspective on A.I. to consider. Likewise, the presence of Miki here is designed to make Murderbot consider its role in the world, and I have to say, the utter confusion the other bot causes our protagonist was enough to make me burst out laughing. Poor Murderbot. It was in no way prepared for Miki.
Still, how this volume ended was a bit predictable, which admittedly stole away some of the emotional impact. That said, Rogue Protocol is another solid sequel in what might be one of the best sci-fi series to come out in recent years. Don’t let the size of these books fool you; Murderbot Diaries packs a powerful punch in every 150-ish page volume, and this is coming from someone who isn’t even all that into novellas and short fiction. I loved this, and I’m looking forward to more.