Novella Review: Exit Strategy 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 4 of The Murderbot Diaries
Publisher: Tor.com (October 2, 2018)
Length: 176 pages
Exit Strategy closes out the Murderbot Diaries quartet of novellas, and while it’s a bit on the tame side compared to all that came before, I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to tie everything together. For those who have been on this crazy ride since the beginning, you will also be delighted to know this book takes us back to the beginning, to the event and people who started it all.
At the end of the last book, Murderbot had just made a significant breakthrough in its investigation of the shadowy corporation GrayCris and has decided the time has finally come to seek out Dr. Mensah, the lead researcher we first met in All Systems Red. But there’s only one problem: it appears Mensah has been kidnapped in a preemptive move by GrayCris to prevent a lawsuit from being brought against them. Murderbot now has no choice but to take it upon itself to rescue Mensah, but first it must take care of another predicament. Word is out that a rogue SecUnit is on the loose, and the authorities are out in force looking for Murderbot, threatening to end its mission before it even begins.
After making its way to the space station where Dr. Mensah is believed to be held, it’s a heartfelt reunion as Murderbot is reconnected with the other scientists from the original exploration team. But none of it is going to compare to the moment when our protagonist finally comes face to face again with the person who had always known Murderbot’s true nature, treating it as an individual and a friend. Needless to say, the idea is a bombshell for an A.I. who has always had difficulty coming to grips with its emotions. In one of the most compassionate and revealing moments of this entire series, the famously snarky and misanthropic Murderbot must consider how these feelings will affect its perceptions of humans, as well as what this might mean for the future.
Like all the Murderbot Diaries novellas that have come before, this final one really packed a punch. But while action and intrigue have thus far been major elements in the previous volumes, perhaps it is no surprise where Exit Strategy hit the hardest was in the emotional department. I felt it was an appropriate and natural next step following the intensity and energy of Rogue Protocol, and the more reflective tone of this book allowed for the attention to shine on everything going on in Murderbot’s mind. We’ve seen how each installment has built upon the previous one, forming a larger narrative while always increasing the stakes. Having recognized this trend, I expected a lot from Exit Strategy and in the end I was not disappointed. We have now witnessed the nearly complete transformation of Murderbot. It has gone to great lengths to augment itself to look and act human, and the final step was learning how to feel human.
For those of a mind that a person alone with no community, friends, or family can ever truly grasp the full human experience, you will probably appreciate the themes in this series. Murderbot began as an artificial intelligence freed from its programming. Hilariously though, before Dr. Mensah’s team came along, it was content to simply use its newfound freedom to enjoy the limitless offerings of TV shows available from the human entertainment networks. From the beginning, that part of Murderbot’s personality set the stage for the type of humor and charm you would find throughout this series, but it goes deeper than that. I’d really like to think that the soaps was what set our protagonist on its path to empathize with and relate to humans, ultimately discovering the importance of meaningful relationships and value of friends and other people who will have your back—no matter what.
All told, the Murderbot Diaries series has been an absolute delight. All four novellas have been quick and easy reads, but nevertheless, they’ll be hard to forget. I’m very excited for the upcoming full-length novel, because like many others, I have not had enough of Murderbot yet, not even close. I’ll be looking forward to see where Martha Wells will take the character next.