Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Network Effect explores AIs bickering like an old married couple and it’s wonderful

I was curious to see where Martha Wells would take the Murderbot Diaries with the fifth book, Network Effect. The first four novellas form an arc that could described as Murderbot Finds a Family.

(The Murderbot Diaries has a starships and lasers setting run by Cyberpunk megacorps who treat their employees the way the Imperium of Man from WH40K. Sentient machines like Murderbot have the basic social standing of pocket lint)

Network Effect, the first full length novel, could described as Murderbot Finds Love. Or, more accurately, Murderbot Finally Acknowledges Love.

I have written about the Murderbot Diaries before and I still hold that it is an in-depth character study clever disguised as an action adventure story. Murderbot is one cape shy of being a superhero but also struggles with crippling social anxiety and a trauma-filled past.

One review pointed out something that I hadn’t considered. Murderbot isn’t a some kind of assassin or soldier cyborg/robot/construct. It is specifically a security construct, a body guard. So it’s devotion and fierce protectiveness for the people it cares about makes perfect sense.

Network Effect brings back Perihelion/Asshole Research Transport. ART was already established as one of Murderbot’s most important relationships. It helped Murderbot transition to being non-factory model and gave Murderbot constant, if snarky, support. Their relationship is the center of Network Effect.

The book also continues the pattern of having Murderbot interact and react to dealing with other AIs. In this case, we get two characters who are effectively alternate Murderbots. More details would be too many spoilers but they are hilariously designated 2 and 3.

While 2 is the more important (and interesting) contrast to Murderbot, I find the idea of 3 being what Murderbot would be like without its traumatic past fascinating. When asked what it wants if it could have free will, it wants to help. 3 is a silver age hero to Murderbot’s hitter bronze age hero. (Murderbot is not an anti-hero. It may be snarky and fragile but it’s totally a hero)

Network Effect continues the series journey of being about emotional growth couched in a science fiction setting that allowed a comfortable distance for the readers.

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