Literary Learnings

For This Fan: All Systems Go

By Dianna Sinovic

I can’t remember how I discovered the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, but I was hooked only a few pages into the first book.

The four-book series follows the ongoing story of a Security Unit (SecUnit) android with a mind of its own. The stories are set in a galaxy far, far away, but it’s not a tie-in to anything Star Wars. Wells has created a science-fiction world unto itself, complete with enhanced humans, nonstop info feeds, and really, really bad guys. Her main character is both ruthless and vulnerable—and quite sarcastic.

The series has won the big prizes for speculative fiction: several Hugos, Nebulas, and Locuses. It was so successful, with readers clamoring for more stories about SecUnit, that the author went on to write two follow-up novels: Network Effect and System Collapse, the latter of which just came out in November (2023).

In the first novella, All Systems Red, the SecUnit disables its governor module, which had kept it from making its own decisions. That action proves useful when the research crew SecUnit is assigned to faces a double-cross. Through the remaining three novellas in the series—Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy—SecUnit continues to grow and evolve as a character despite the fact that they are more robot than human.

Besides the excellent storytelling in the series, what I found particularly interesting was the gender-neutral approach that Wells takes with her main character. Because SecUnit is not overtly binary, when I read the stories, I assumed SecUnit was female. When my husband read the books, he assumed they were male. Neither of us saw SecUnit as a machine.

Wells is not just a master of spec fiction, though. She’s a prolific writer across several other genres: fantasy, Young Adult, and nonfiction. Witch King, which lands in the fantasy realm, is another recent release of hers, out last fall. She’s also written The Books of the Raksura series and the Ile-Rien series.

According to her website, she is a member of the Texas Literary Hall of Fame, and her books have been published in twenty-five languages. Born in Forth Worth, she lives in College Station, Texas, and holds a degree in anthropology.

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