A new Murderbot book is always a delight and, even though this one was a novel, I tore through it in a day. It is, as you would expect, highly entertaining. But by now a Murderbot book has to advance the story, which is what I will be focusing on here.
One thing you should be aware of is that this book is a direct sequel to Network Effect. So Murderbot, its human friends, plus ART and his crew, are still at the distant planet whose colonists they are trying to rescue. The agents of the Barish-Estranza corporation are still hanging around causing trouble, and hoping to drag the unfortunate colonists off into indentured servitude. And of course there is now a serious risk of further interactions of the sort that happened in Network Effect. Because this planet is also home to an alien virus that can infect the minds of both bots and humans, and resulted in Murderbot having to fight what it euphemistically calls Targets, and we readers doubtless refer to as Zombies.
A consequence of this being a sequel is that everything starts very much in media res. It you are picking this book up blind you are likely to be very confused as to where Murderbot is, what has happened to it recently, and so on. You may not know that Perihelion is ART’s real name. Network Effect and System Collapse are very much two halves of a single story, and need to be read as such.
A major theme of this book is that Murderbot is suffering from considerable trauma thanks to the events of the previous book. Having to kill some humans, even if they were undead, was a deeply unpleasant experience. And Murderbot has probably seen enough horror movies to know what zombies are like. It does contain some human neural tissue, and it probably doesn’t want that eaten.
There are also problems with the colonists who, being humans, are behaving in illogical and unreasonable ways. In their defence, they have recently survived a zombie infestation, but with Barish-Estranza hanging around they need to be thinking more clearly.
What emerges from this is a story of Murderbot working under considerable stress, and discovering that having emotions is not good for your efficiency. Not having a governor module is fine when things are going well. But when you are barely recovered from serious injuries, missing a lot of your usual equipment, suffering from mental trauma, and have some of your humans in deadly danger, emotions tend to take over.
It is a good job that Murderbot has watched so much human media. At least it knows what emotions are, and can recognize them when it has them.
Rather delightfully, Murderbot’s knowledge of media also comes to the rescue in a most unexpected way in this book.
System Collapse also introduces a human called Tarik who is a former corporate mercenary. Like Murderbot, he sickened of his job and quit. The contrast between a human trained killer and a cyborg trained killer is something that I hope Martha Wells will explore in future books in the series. I suspect we will find that there isn’t much difference.
Anyway, Murderbot continues to be a delight. You knew that would be the case. You don’t need me to recommend this book.
Title: System Collapse
By: Martha Wells
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