All Systems Red

Authors: Martha Wells

Publication year: 2017

Publisher: Tor

Genres: science fiction, sapience

Series: Murderbot Diaries

Pages: 154

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

Last read: from 2019-04-12
to 2019-04-17

Owner: me


A sapient construct, part organic and part machine, is tasked with protecting a team of researchers on a frontier planet. When things go wrong, they have to balance maintaining their own identity and secrets, and trusting the researchers so they can all survive.

What I think and stuff

I don’t want to say too much about this–it’s a short, fast read, and I’m worried I’ll spoil things.

The thing that really drew me in to this is just how much I relate to Murderbot’s complete and total aversion to contact with people. Considering they’re1 a part organic, part mechanical construct that can appear human and is fully sapient (not merely sentient), it makes a lot of sense that they’d find interaction with people who at turns use them, pity them, or… i don’t know, weirdly fetishize them for their difference and being to be difficult2.

I’m not saying I have the aversion for the same reasons (I just sometimes find social and emotional labor really difficult), but I felt very seen when reading those passages. Wells writes social anxiety and aversion well.

More generally, this is a classic sitch where a conventional sci-fi adventure story (scientists on hostile planet survive to win the day, with the help of Murderbot), is actually a vehicle for the more philosophical themes. The core of it is what is personhood and maybe sometimes we’re not so even-handed when meting that out as we think we are.

The novella plays this pretty straight–you don’t have to dig far to get them. But Wells handles them with care and nuance even in that directness, which I really appreciate.

  1. I’m going to go with ‘they’ since I don’t remember it being stated in the novella, but given the absence of anything other than the story… I think of Murderbot as a ‘she’? Dunno. Using ‘they’ though. [return]
  2. I don’t know… does this maybe sound like how we white people on the left often behave towards PoC? Or cis folk towards trans? Men towards women? [return]


  • Nebula Award Winner for Best Novella in 2017
  • ALA/YALSA Alex Award Winner in 2017
  • Locus Award Winner for Best Novella in 2017
  • Hugo Award Winner for Best Novella in 2017
  • Philip K. Dick Award Finalist in 2017