Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Murderbot Diaries:Character growth disguised as a thriller

If it wasn’t for the fact that the Murderbot Diaries have a very clear and genuine character arc running through them, I would say that the author Martha Wells is being a troll. 

The covers all feature images of the title character decked in armor that wouldn’t be out of place in Halo with a faceless helmet. And the title character is called Murderbot for crying out loud. The expectation is an action-driven series.

And while there is plenty of action and Murderbot is great at combat, that isn’t the driving point of the series. As well as being really good at fighting and various combat situations, Murderbot is also emotionally damaged, has high social anxiety and uses soap operas as a coping mechanism. 

And, in literally the first scene of the first book, Murderbot opens its visor to reveal its cloned human face, establishing it even has a face. That one scene alone completely subverted my expectations.  

(I will note that Wells gives Murderbot a very specific traumatic event that causes it to break its restraining bolt/governing unit so it has free will and has left it in an emotionally fragile state. Won’t spoil it. Read the series for yourself.)

Part of what attracted my interest in the series in the first place was that I read that is was a science fiction metaphor for transitioning. Murderbot doesn’t have a gender but it is transitioning to its own person.

Reading the first book, I felt that that might be a stretch. Then, when the second book dealt with body adjustment and social-emotional adjustment, I could see that this was authorial intent. 

This ain’t the Bicentennial Man. This isn’t about becoming human. It’s about Murderbot becoming their own thing, not what society tells them to be.

The series is also pretty funny. 

I’m four books in and I’m going to read this series to the end.

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