Descriptions of blood, violence and murder. Warning for [character death.].
– Murderbot at its best and most sarcastic
– Strong supporting cast
– Miki as a A+ Murderbot foil
– Fast-paced, straightforward story
– Readable, accessible, fitting writing style
– Creative combat
– Beginning is a biiiit slow
– … that’s it?
I had to withdraw back to my dark cubicle. I was having an emotion again.
The case against GrayCris (from All Systems Red) is running into trouble: they really, really want Dr. Mensah’s rogue SecUnit AKA one Murderbot. Murderbot wants to find enough evidence to redirect the spotlight back to GrayCris. (And to support Dr. Mensah, because darn, is it caring? Maybe.) With these goals in mind, Murderbot heads to Milu, the site of an abandoned terraforming facility, which GrayCris may have used as a cover for its real operation: recovering alien artifacts. (Again.) Upon arrival, Murderbot discovers a small research team, including the cheerful and innocent human-form bot Miki, is heading down to inspect the facility. Since they’re headed in the same direction, it wouldn’t hurt if it kept an eye out on them, right?
Of course, the little research team experiences some attempted murder, and Murderbot steps in to save them.
Like its predecessors, Rogue Protocol is a tidy little story that entertains and raises some ethical/existential/philosophical questions. It’s easy to follow (seriously, this one of the most accessible sci-fi series I’ve read), it’s enjoyable, there are a lot of ~sci-fi~ terms, but you don’t need to give a damn about them to follow the plot.
Rogue Protocol succeeds on multiple levels: it’s funny, it’s exciting (Murderbot gets to show off some of its more creative moves!), it’s going to give you an emotion. I feel like Wells ironed out some of the (very, very small) kinks in the first two novellas and produced a sort of perfect Murderbot experience in Rogue Protocol.
Murderbot is in a reversed situation from Artificial Condition: instead of the powerful, intelligent ART supporting it from the background it must work in tangent with the sweet, pet-like, not-at-all-prepared-for-danger-or-combat Miki. Miki, the human-form bot—all metal, no organic parts like Murderbot, pure AI—has only experienced kindness and friendship from humans. As such, Miki is an excellent foil character to Murderbot. (This is dipping into the character section, but it’s pretty core to the story and Murderbot’s experience therein.) Keeping the humans alive in their situation requires Murderbot, who’s been treated like a particularly dangerous piece of furniture all its life, to work in tandem with Miki, who’s been treated as nothing less than a precious, precious friend.
Characters—★★★★★ (4.5 Stars)
If one of my problems with All Systems Red was keeping track of the sheer number of supporting characters, and one of my problems with Artificial Condition was the smaller and weaker cast, then Rogue Protocol hits a glorious sweet spot: these characters are meaningful, impact the plot, and we can keep track of them.
In Rogue Protocol, it’s easy to notice the tiers of characters we’re supposed to care about. (Murderbot is always first, obvs.) In All Systems Red, Murderbot specifically kept its human crew at arms-length: we struggled to care about most of the crew and it took a while for us to warm up to Dr. Mensah, All Systems Red‘s most prominent supporting character. In Artificial Condition, ART is the most prominent supporting character. ART’s easy to love, but it’s never in danger; it’s always in the background, safely out in space, helping Murderbot. Murderbot’s human clients, who are the ones in danger, are #1, overshadowed by ART’s personality and #2, appear less frequently. While ART and Murderbot’s clients contribute to raising questions about humanness and identity, their overall impact on the reader is less significant than it could be.
In Rogue Protocol, after Murderbot, we have Miki, and it’s boss/best friend Don Abene. Both are introduced fairly early and both are easy to care about. Miki is innocent, almost childish; it only has good intentions and only knows good intentions. Don Abene has treated it with kindness and respect, and treats Murderbot with much the same.
All of this gives Murderbot some emotions. When it travelled, it travelled in a box. When it worked with clients, it stayed in a box. On media programs, the SecUnits it sees are rogue, murderous SecUnits. The point of its existence is literally to place itself between the client and the source of harm, and by the way, it can still feel pain. If destroyed, the cheap company that owned it would scrap it for parts. Miki’s humans introduce Miki as an equal part of their team and ask if it might like to sit down? The contrast is clear, and Murderbot’s emotions and how it reacts to both Miki and Don Abene are core to both the story and its character in Rogue Protocol.
Told in first person, past tense, Wells conveys Rogue Protocol in a conversational, accessible, and wry style, which suits Murderbot’s voice and personality perfectly. Murderbot is hilarious in Rogue Protocol. ART stole the show a bit in Artificial Condition, but here Murderbot’s glorious sarcastic asides shine.
Despite this, there are some occasional weak points—mostly some had hads. Which, given that Well’s skilled, “invisible” style is perfect otherwise, is starting to feel like a silly thing for which to knock points off.
Themes and Representation—★★★★☆
Rogue Protocol continues to touch on themes of and raise questions about humanity (and its many forms) and ownership of self-aware beings.
Don Abene, the most prominent human supporting character, is described as having warm brown skin and dark eyes; the names of three supporting characters suggest they’re of Japanese heritage, Nigerian heritage, and Cambodian heritage. (Hirune, Ejiro, and Vibol, respectfully.) Murderbot itself seems to be aromantic and asexual.
Overall—★★★★★ (4.5 Stars)
Fans of Murderbot; fans of clever, smart sci-fi; those who want to have an emotion.
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