A Nebula Review: Network Effect by Martha Wells

Review by Paige Downey

Martha Wells has created a hilarious series in the Murderbot Diaries. I already picked All Systems Red as one of my best reads from 2020, and honestly I stand by this newest entry in the series as a solid choice for a Nebula Award. Do I think it will win? Honestly no. I think you’ve got some heavy hitters in this category that might outshine it when it comes time to voting. But it is still worthy of it’s nomination and I’m banking on it being my personal choice of the nominees.

But back to the book itself. Network Effect is the fifth entry in the series, but the first full length novel. All of Murderbot’s other outings have been novella sized offerings, and I am personally thrilled to have a longer story. A brief introduction: Murderbot, our main character, is a robot specializing in security, called a SecUnit. These SecUnits are usually available for rent by a company to people who are participating in business on mostly uninhabited planets (Murderbot is now free of the company due to events in previous books). The first entry in this series saw Murderbot protecting a group of scientists while they conducted some basic research on a random planet. TheSecUnits are controlled by a governor module, which keeps them from doing anything they aren’t supposed to. Murderbot doesn’t have this governor module anymore, and spends all of their freetime and freedom to do the only logical thing. Watch an ungodly amount of television. Also they have extremely severe social anxiety. Basically I identify on a spiritual level with Murderbot. 

In this particular entry, Murderbot ends up reuniting with a sentient spaceship which Murderbot named ART, which is short for Asshole Research Transport. Only now ART is in trouble. And they did the only logical thing it could do in this situation. Called up their only friend: Murderbot. And Murderbot has some complex feelings about that. The social anxiety is real! Also further complicating things, Murderbot had been on a mission protecting a group of his favorite humans who got pulled into a combative situation when Murderbot has to save ART. So now Murderbot has to save ART and all of his humans, while dealing with unwanted emotions when all they want to do is watch TV. Relatable. 

It’s this social anxiety that I relate to the most, but I think the most compelling part of the story, and the whole series foe that matter, is watching Muderbot try to deal with complex and often competing emotions. Muderbot cares for their human companions, but their anxiety causes them to try and keep them at arm’s length. This happens even more with ART. Murderbot is constantly annoyed by ART, but must confront their feelings of devastation when ART is in trouble and seemingly destroyed. It’s an extremely human internal debate that is made all the more interesting coming from a robot who tries as hard as they can to be a heartless killing machine. Muderbot’s utter failing in this regard just makes them all the more endearing as they have to continuously save a bunch of stupid humans, grumbling the whole time.

The books are absolutely hilarious! Murderbot is extremely sarcastic, if you couldn’t tell by the ART nickname, and is so devoted to their favorite show that any obsessed fangirl or fanboy can relate. I will add that I listened to all of these as audiobooks and having someone voice Murderbot added to the humor. I blew through these and I am not so patiently waiting for the next entry, Fugitive Telemetry, to drop on April 27, 2021. I HAVE TO WAIT A WHOLE MONTH AT THE TIME OF WRITING THIS ARRGGGHHHH!!!!!

Anyway, would recommend, 10/10

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