Novella Review: Fugitive Telemetry 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: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 6 of The Murderbot Diaries
Publisher: Tor.com (April 27, 2021)
Length: 176 pages
Detective Murderbot is the BEST Murderbot! Martha Wells returns to the short format with Fugitive Telemetry, the sixth volume released in the Murderbot Diaries sequence and it’s probably my favorite one yet—which is really saying something, considering how much I’ve enjoyed all the books. What can I say, but a murder mystery in space will do it for me every time!
And this one doesn’t mess around. The story beings right away with the discovery of a dead body on Preservation Station, a quiet little outpost on which Murderbot finds itself along with Dr. Mensah while hiding out from GrayCris. The place isn’t exactly killer central, sending the entire station into lockdown and our protagonist’s risk assessment levels soaring. It’s possible that their enemies could have found them, but then again, the death might be completely unrelated. That’s what Preservation’s Senior Officer Indah is trying to figure out, along with support teams from Station Security and Port Authority.
Murderbot being Murderbot, all it wants is to be left alone with its shows, but Dr. Mensah has other ideas. It had been a right challenge to convince the pertinacious Indah to take in a SecUnit, so in order to continue cultivating goodwill with their hosts, she believes it would be prudent for Murderbot to help out with the investigation as a consultant. While Murderbot isn’t at all happy with that plan (but then again, it seldom is), it knows Dr. Mensah is right. Plus, getting involved in the case might also mean gaining access to some of the security systems and data it had been denied before, and the sooner they can rule out a threat from GrayCris, the safer Dr. Mensah and her team will be.
What follows next is a sequence of events that read more like a locked room mystery, but that’s not to say we don’t have many of the tried-and-true elements that made all the other Murderbot Diaries books such a hit. Theoretically, one can probably read Fugitive Telemetry as a standalone, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it. This story will be much more enjoyable if you have read up to Exit Strategy, the ending of which explains why Murderbot now has reason to fear retribution from GrayCris, not to mention having a solid foundation of knowledge from the previous books would also lead to more appreciation for the characters and the relationships.
As well, being able to understand the significance of society’s attitudes towards Murderbot is a crucial point to this novella. Time and time again, we’ve heard how humans fear and mistrust SecUnits, but so far in the series, our protagonist has spent a great deal of time traveling alone or has had its interactions mostly limited to Dr. Mensah and members of her team. This all changes in Fugitive Telemetry. For the first time, Murderbot’s designation is out in the open, which comes with its own set of unique challenges as most of the population still perceive rogue SecUnits as thoughtless killing machines. Of course, this situation would have been more tragic, if Murderbot’s overall pragmatism and wry commentary about the silly behaviors of humans didn’t make everything so damn hilarious.
It was also profoundly satisfying to watch as Murderbot trounced the Preservation Station’s ragtag security team on threat assessment and defense strategy, though ultimately nothing could compare to the feeling of vindication as those in charge gradually began seeing our protagonist as more a person. All the while, we were also seeing a similar change in Murderbot as it grudgingly developed an appreciation for being a part of a team, and—against its better judgement—even started to feel invested in the lives and wellbeing of those affected by the murder investigation.
Which leads me to the story itself. I’m not going to give away any more details of the plot, other than the fact it kept me hooked from start to finish, and I could not tear myself away. I honestly was surprised by the ending and did not anticipate a lot of the twists and turns. Despite its primary classification as a sci-fi novel, do not doubt that Fugitive Telemetry can hold its own in the mystery category, and even surpass expectations for the whodunnit genre.
Bottom line, followers of the series owe it to themselves to also check out Fugitive Telemetry. For me, it was the perfect blend of entertaining sci-fi action and tantalizing murder mystery, though I also enjoyed seeing our favorite SecUnit continue to navigate the indeterminate world of human space and learning new lessons, both strange and wonderful. And if you still haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Murderbot yet, seriously—what are you waiting for?! Run, don’t walk, to pick up All Systems Red and begin this amazing journey, which I hope will last for a long time yet.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of All Systems Red (Book 1)
Review of Artificial Condition (Book 2)
Review of Rogue Protocol (Book 3)
Review of Exit Strategy (Book 4)
Review of Network Effect (Book 5)