Cover Image: Network Effect

Network Effect

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If you’ve read the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, then you know the only thing better than Murderbot is more Murderbot, and thus the only thing better than a Murderbot novella would be a Murderbot novel. Which is just what Wells gives us in Network Effect and while the expansion doesn’t come without some issues, I for one couldn’t be happier.

After the events of the prior novella, Murderbot has joined a team of planetary surveyors from the Preservation Station (I’m going to assume you know the background to this universe), including several members of Murderbot’s original team as well as Amena, the daughter of Murderbot’s closest human friend Dr. Mensah. The story opens with a bang as the group is under attack and, as usual, Murderbot has to rescue “the stupid humans.” The successful rescue is followed by only a brief period of peace, as in shockingly short order Murderbot and Amena find themselves abducted and fighting for their lives on board the ship that formerly housed Murderbot’s old AI buddy ART (Asshole Research Transport), who seems to have been murdered by their captors. The story eventually broadens beyond the running battle aboard the ship and throws a lot at the reader: space raiders, possible aliens, dangerous ancient alien artifacts, a lost space colony, hostage situations, self-replication, corporate skullduggery, grief, trauma, more desperate rescue missions. and the age-old question of why adults don’t murder their own adolescents.

It's a lot, as noted, and if there’s a weakness to Network Effect it’s that the expansion from novella to novel maybe added a bit too much extra material and that the extra material also comes with some pacing issues. But honestly, that’s a minor quibble as that one weakness is more than made up for by a host of other elements, such as Wells’ deft hand at action scenes, the way she seamlessly and concisely brings in more serious aspects of the corporate dystopia that runs much of this world (something aided by how this is Amena’s first exposure to that dystopia and so she gets to act as the appalled stand-in for the reader), her meta use of media, and her sharp, vivid characterization across all the characters, human and non-human.

But as usual, the two stand-out elements are Murderbot itself and their (Wells’) desert-dry and oh-so-funny sense of humor. Murderbot’s characterization is rich and multi-faceted. It continues its ongoing journey toward a sense of self and a sense of place within the human community and, to a lesser extent, the bot community. Lesser only in the sense that there are fewer bots and unlike with the humans we have yet to really get a sense of them as a collective community; Murderbot’s AI relationships are certainly no less important or intensely emotional — just the opposite.

All of this navigation of interactions is tinged by Murderbot’s ongoing effects from trauma, a storyline nicely mirrored by Dr. Mensah’s own attempts to deal with the aftermath of trauma as well. Just as it takes Murderbot to tell Mensah she isn’t dealing with it so great, it takes an outside — in this case Amena — to make evident to Murderbot that it is suffering from trauma and grief (long-held from his past actions and newly-formed from the seeming demise of ART) and that this is affecting its decision-making. Wells is wonderful at being able to shift so smoothly and effortlessly between humor (the scene where Murderbot breaks up a possible hook-up is laugh out loud funny) and poignancy, and neither is achieved cheaply.

Murderbot is one of the most endearing characters in contemporary fiction, and that characterization is wonderfully meshed with a pitch-perfect voice. And while each story save this one is relatively brief, one has a sense that both the plot and character are building toward something larger: a full sense of self-awareness and community for Murderbot and (one hopes) a comeuppance for the horrifically cruel nature of the Corporate Rim, which is revealed in ever more detail just as we’re also given more and more glimpses of abhorrence of and resistance to that cruelty. I can’t wait for the next installment.

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“After spending my entire existence having to gently suggest to humans that they not do things that would probably get them killed, it was nice to be able to tell them in so many words to not be so fucking stupid.”

I don’t want to give too much away, because this is the fifth book in a series, but if you loved the novellas, then Network Effect is definitely for you. This book took everything I loved about the first four books and kicked it up a notch and I honestly think this might be my favorite out of the entire series.

I still absolutely feel that Murderbot is one the most relatable characters I’ve ever read about. Its both very introverted and very anxious. And its dry wit and sass don’t hurt either!

As you expect with every book in this series, there’s action, adventure, and a good dose of friendship (though shhhhhhh, don’t let Murderbot know).

“Her expression had turned all melty and sentimental. “No hugging,” I warned her. It was in our contract.“

In fact, one of the things I truly love about these space adventures are the connections and the character development Murderbot makes. The character dynamics are always a treat to read about and the ones in this book are definitely not a let down!

Some old characters are fleshed out and some new characters are introduced. There’s fighting, arguing, and (gasp!) emotions. This installment to the Murderbot Diaries is absolutely fantastic and definitely lived up to all my expectations. All the stars!

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I always loved Murderbot and ART's friendship and in this book they finally are reunited. BUT- it doesn't go well.

To do a quick summation of how they meet up again: Murderbot is bodyguarding a science team that's returning to the planet where Dr Mensah (Murderbot's sponsor) lives. Murderbot is specifically tasked to watch Amena (Dr. Mensah's teenage daughter, I think?). Their ship is waylaid by pirates and Murderbot and Amena end up captured. Turns out that the pirate ship is the vessel that houses ART! However, ART is non functional, possibly even deleted entirely.

So, what I liked. Murderbot is PISSED when it finds out that it has been manipulated and its clients put in danger to serve ART's ends. Neither of these two is used to having a relationship with another sentient AI and they are very bad at emotion, both of them. I continue to like how hard Murderbot's humans try to understand its wants and needs and to respect its boundaries. All this emotional subtext was what elevated the book. The plot itself was also quite good on its own. The author definitely ascribes to the view of "what would my characters hate the most and how can I make that happen to them?" Murderbot pretty much spells out exactly this toward the end of the book, when it is put into a situation that combines no less than three of its most traumatic scenarios. I could see some things coming here and there but not everything. There was Murderbot competence, Murderbot wishing it could watch its media for stress relief, Murderbot dealing poorly with the emotions of itself and others. There was Murderbot trying to work out relationship problems (which it did not want to do and was horrible at). There were also possible aliens, space pirates, spooky abandoned space colonies, biological contamination, and teenagers.

I'd read a couple of reviews that liked this book well enough but weren't sure the larger format was the best one for this character. I actually really liked it! I've fallen a bit behind because I'd stumbled over this novel and hadn't been able to move past it but I'm glad I read it and am happy to continue.

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Long form Murderbot. Fans of the novella series won't be disappointed. Murder bot is one of the best Science fiction characters ever.

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I needed this book. I’m such a fan of Murderbot’s voice in general, but it hit really well at this stage of the third pandemic winter. “Come on guys—I just want to watch my media with my friend, why do I have to save stupid humans?” This book got me out of a slump I had been in for a few weeks, and despite what others have said I thought it moved pretty well and didn’t feel 2-3 times longer than the novellas. Do yourself a favor and binge some Murderbot this winter!

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I was sitting on finishing this for so long, because I knew once it was done, I would be without a new MB book for a while. So finishing this brings me bittersweet happiness and sadness all at once.

Also, I got this on audio, because the only way to survive my new commute was audio books and the voice actor was STUNNING. I am going to play this book on repeat, alternating with a different book so I don't completely get tired of it, but OH MY GOODNESS, experiencing MB via audio book blew my mind!

This is a series that really needs to be read/experienced in order. I personally read the books out of publication order, but in chronological order, as the most recently published novella (book #6) comes time-wise before the full book (book #5). I don't regret it, because I didn't want anything spoiled or confusing me.

As such, I'm not going to spoil anything for those who choose to read this review. All I can say is, this series is so amazing, I highly recommend it, stop what you are doing and go get it now.

5, I will never give MB less than ALL the stars, stars.

My thanks to NetGalley and for an eARC copy of this book to read and review.

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It was recently announced that one million copies of Martha Wells’s Murderbot series have been sold. This is an incredible milestone, and one that reminded me that I had fallen behind on the series! So, I decided to dive right back in with this, the first full-length novel in the series. Populated with some great characters (returning and new), and an intriguing plot, I enjoyed this a lot. Which is just what I expected.

SecUnit is still with the Preservation (a group who have broken with the hyper-capitalism of the universe in this future setting), and as the novel opens, it’s on a mission that has been upended by a surprise attack. Despite SecUnit’s efforts, things go a bit tits-up, and events quickly become rather strange and unexpected. Abducted by a strange group of “Targets” (SecUnit has a rather straightforward naming convention for unknowns), it finds itself on a very familiar vessel. However, everything is off — certain presences are absent, and the ship in question appears to be mostly deserted. Yes, that’s all rather vague. The problem is, the novel has quite a few revelations and mysteries in just the first half (which are resolved), and I don’t want to spoil any of them. Needless to say, there’s plenty of action on multiple scales, and lots of snark from SecUnit (it finds humans generally exhausting and too unpredictable).

The novel also has an interesting and engaging overall plot. It delves into the all-too-believable hyper-corporatization of this future, and how it affects exploration, (re-)discovery of planets and communities, and also personhood. Wells also gives us some more details on Dr. Mensah’s situation and the break-away society that she is helping to run — they reject many of the corporatist aspects of life (which is very important for SecUnit’s situation), and there are glimpses of growing opposition and potential threats looming in the shadows. Meanwhile, Murderbot is also trying to figure out its place in the universe, what it wants, and where it wants to be and go. Over the course of the novel, it is confronted with multiple situations that make it question itself, what it means to be in the position it is (a rogue SecUnit, free to make its own choices), and what it can do with this experience and knowledge. Also, it is forced to confront the idea of its own peculiar types of friendships and relationships — all of which is done very well, and endearing while simultaneously in keeping with Murderbot’s tone.

The full-novel length of the story took a little more adjustment than I’d expected. This might be because of my mood — I was reading the book during a very busy week — but might also just be because I’m used to quick, punchier doses of Murderbot. Network Effect did, therefore, feel a little slow to begin with. However, this didn’t hamper my ability to enjoy it — indeed, it was great to be back with these characters and in this universe. Every time I picked up the book, I found myself easily slipping back into the setting and story, and enjoyed following the characters’ continued exploits and growth.

If you’re a fan of the series already, then you no doubt will have leapt at the chance to read this. If you haven’t discovered Murderbot, yet, then I’d certainly recommend you give the series a try. Each of the books has been a fantastic slice of science fiction: good action, solid characterization, and an excellent gentle humour running throughout the series.

Definitely recommended.

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I have maaaaany feelings about this book. It took a little while to get going, but I think that's a skewed impression, because I've just binged my way through all of the previous titles in the series and they are novellas, so of course this feels slower. About halfway through, it got VERY exciting (and complicated) and then it was the familiar tense, thrilling, weirdly emotional and action-packed romp to the end. I loved all of it, although I really don't want there to be this many characters to keep track of next time 😅

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A new, full-length story with my favorite anxious, depressed rogue Murderbot. Self-determination and the legality/personhood of SecUnits more relevant than ever to MB’s personal arc. Smart scifi with humor and hopefulness.★★★★

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It is somewhat difficult to explain what is so great about these series and this book in particular. I think it is because Martha Wells makes it look so effortless, so it is extremely difficult to pin point what about it just amazing. I guess all of it?

This is a story that builds on the short novellas that came before and as much as they build the setting, I really think only All Systems Red might be necessary, if you don't like being dropped in the middle of it, but since the plot is a walk backwards to put together what happened, we are all dropped very much in the middle of it anyway, so don't let that stop you.

The plot is very interesting and it moves along rapidly. The action is intense and the stakes feel high all through the book. The set up is simple, if such thing can be applied to anything in the Murderbot Diaries, but while coming back from a survey, Murderbot and one of its clients are kidnapped and brought back to a transport. Here they are faced with potential aliens or at least altered humans, no idea where they are or why and where the transport pilot is, who is a friend of Murderbot, ART.
So far, a sort of amnesia mystery where people's and bot's memories have been altered and they are not completely aware of how they got where they are, but they all have a very creditable common threat they need to defeat in order to get their missing crew members back and get back home.

But here is where it gets really interesting.
Murderbot and ART's relationship (Murderbot: "EWWWW")
As Ratthi puts it:
“Anyone who thinks machine intelligences don’t have emotions needs to be in this very uncomfortable room right now.”

I don't want to spoil the entire book, nor do I want to have to block my entire review because of spoilers, but Murderbot and ART's (Peri for its crew, short for Perihelion, a nice and properly cosmic name for a space ship, but I think we can all agree they should have gone with "hellion" as the nickname) relationships, feelings and "humanity" is the absolute core of the book.
Not only how they relate to each other but how they relate to their humans.

And at the core, always in this series, the question what is "humanity"? what makes a person a person? (Also, how much media could I watch if I had several processors instead of a brain?)
What is personhood? and do we have the right to withheld or grant this attributes onto others or are they, in reality, self-determining? (Yes, like pronouns. Martha Wells said trans rights are human rights).
It might have been easier to grant this personhood, when we see Murderbot, literally created in our own image with parts of our material, but it becomes more difficult when we discuss a ship, a piece of software. Is it their uniqueness? Their individuality? Maybe. Is it the fact that they feel? Love, loyalty, hatred.

These questions are presented to be pondered, not to receive answers and they are packed in such a fantastically fun packaging made of sarcasm, anxiety induced humour, healthy doses of cynicism and deep down, a rock solid base of compassion and empathy in the first person retelling dairies of the (self-appointed) Murderbot.

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I was so excited to learn that there’d be a Murderbot novel, and so excited to get my hands on an ARC, that my performance dropped by several points due to the number of inputs. Which is to say, I started reading the book, was loving it, and then actually I got too wound up by certain events and ended up with a sort of anxiety about picking it up and continuing. Needless to say, I finally did, and many of my wishes for the series were fulfilled by the return of known characters and more exploration of the world.

I don’t really know what to say without being spoilery, because I think the thing that got me wound up is worth getting wound up about on your own terms. I should say that I found some of the interludes a little irritating, because they felt like padding. Though, well, you’ll see if you read it.

I’ll also admit that in some of the scenes where they were all figuring things out and making plans, my brain started derailing and refusing to hold the details in mind. I just sort of trusted to the narrative at that point, and it did work, but there is a lot of talking and negotiating, and there are a lot of characters running round doing their own thing. It might have been a bit sharper through narrowing down the focus to fewer characters. There are two characters who didn’t feel totally integral to the plot, who could’ve been left behind without harming things too much.

However, it’s also delightful to see Murderbot with its people, having returned with them to Preservation. All of Murderbot’s complicated feelings about having friends and being part of a team are on full display in this novel, and it’s lovely to explore. It’s also fascinating to see more of their world (spoiler spoiler spoiler). Despite my quibbles about the dialogue-heavy bits and the extraneous characters, I sped through the book in several large gulps once I settled down to it and started again.

If you’ve loved the novellas, it’s definitely recommended, with the caveat that you may feel the longer format wasn’t as ideal.

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Although I enjoyed this story, I thought the pacing was slightly off - probably due to it being a lot longer than the standard novella format - the middle seemed slightly too drawn out however, that being said, I was so excited to see ART once again and not one but TWO iterations of Murderbot!

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Rating: 10/10

Network Effect is book #5 in Martha Wells’ The Murderbot Diaries, and the first full-length novel in the series. I gave the previously-released 4-novella set a glowing review here. As for my review of Network Effect, you are going to find more of the same.

When I say “more of the same”, I mean as far as luminosity of words is concerned. Network Effect is even better than the previous books in the series, and there are are a few reasons for that. Starting with the fact that Wells clearly took an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality with this book. People love Murderbot because it is grumpy, snarky, and really does not like humans (for the most part) but LOVES TV. It is also super smart and strong, and able to think on the fly really well. The author did us all a favor and left these aspects of the series unchanged in Network Effect, while improving in a few other areas (what little there is to improve upon, that is).

For starters, Murderbot is growing.

This all would have been a lot easier if I wasn’t so worried about the stupid humans.

Okay, so it still does not like humans, but it has grown not to hate them. Some of them. A few… of them? But that is more than when this series started, so that is something. Not to mention Murderbot’s growing relationship with ART.

ART’s processing capacity made me look like I was moving in slow motion. This made ART capable of both enormous patience and also of becoming furious when it didn’t get what it wanted immediately. It was one of the few ways I could successfully mess with it.

I know how that sounds, but, really, Murderbot and ART are friends. This is just how they show affection! Sure they have their ups and downs, but they always make up in the end.

It could stare at me all it wanted, I’m not apologizing.

Sure, they can be cheeky, sometimes, which is what makes this relationship all the more spicey! The collaboration between Murderbot and ART is one of my favorites in literature. There is a ton of give and take, and I love the way they constantly challenge each other.

Plot-wise Network Effect is pedal-to-the-medal start to finish. Not that the first set of books were not action-y (because they were), but this book saw almost none of the lulls of experienced by the previous releases. Murderbot and friends… err… crew are constantly getting into messes that Murderot has to get them out of. And if I came for the snark, I stayed for the skirmishes, because this book is full of them. That is what makes Network Effect so un-put-down-able, the constant question of how, not if, they are going to make it out alive. There are a few surprises along the way, too, that take the plot to another level.

The setting is also expanded in this book. As I mentioned in my previous review, there is no grand explanation of the futuristic space world where these books take place, and that does not change with Network Effect. As with the previous books, the reader gets a snippet, a cross-section of the place and time without giving a ton of information about the universe as a whole. The great part is that Wells does take the time to give the reader a close-up of the very specific places where where the story is set. In my opinion, the proximity decisions made by the author in this series continue to impress.

I’m a murderbot, I don’t give a crap about boats.

Maybe Murderbot is less impressed with some of the placement decisions, but I think they are great. Who are you going to believe, anyway, the android who would hurt you if you tried to hug it or your friendly neighborhood book blogger?

It’s usually a good idea to warn bot/human constructs who call themselves Murderbot before making grabby hands…

We get it Murderbot. We get it. Let’s call it a day before it jumps back in with more advice.

Suffice it to say, The Murderbot Diaries just keeps getting better and better. Network Effect is my favorite, so far, due to the fact that it kept what has worked up to this point and made improvements around the margins that moved it to near-perfection. It gets my highest recommendation. If you have not already picked up The Murderbot Diaries, what are you waiting for?

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I love Murderbot. It was great to have a full length novel. The story kept me on the edge of my seat, and the flashbacks were a fantastic way to tell us more about the characters. The humour is stellar as usual. I purchased the audio book version as well and it is also superb.

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This book was everything I was hoping for and full length. I love murder bot, I love space and I loved this book. I just purchased the physical book to have this beauty on my shelf!

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An outstanding entry in the Murderbot series, and the first novel-length work. This novel was well-paced, highly readable, and very engaging. I love the ensemble surrounding Murderbot, and the way that the plot spun out in unexpected and high-stakes ways. The core of the book is of course really in the relationships and friendships. Highly recommended.

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I love Murderbot, and it was a true luxury to stretch out in a full length novel. I sometimes struggled to follow the action in the novellas, because they were so fast paced you can lose track of the tread if you don't pay attention for a single page. But I didn't have that problem at all here - it was always clear what the stakes were, and the traditional non-stop action had space for breathing room, AKA snide remarks and sitcom viewing sessions. It was so great to have ART back too! The humans are always pushed backstage compared to the fun AIs, but even so I found them really engaging and enjoyable here too. Bring on the next!

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Murderbot, beloved and intrepid SecUnit-with-a-soul, graced previous novellas (All Systems Red -- 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, Nebula Award for Best Novella, Locus Award, and New York Times and USA Today Bestseller -- Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy). Once an android Security Unit capable of ruthless and lethal efficiency but lacking volition, this particular unit managed to free themself from its governor module. Over the course of the earlier adventures, they gave themself a personal name (Murderbot) and developed relationships with humans and artificial intelligences alike, often filling empty time and educating themself about human behavior by watching space-based soap operas. One such AI from a previous novella was the snarky ship brain Perihelion, nicknamed ART. Now Murderbot has their own novel, with plenty of scope for reflection, development, and Things Going Seriously Splody. This current volume reunites Murderbot with their favorite and not-so-favorite humans, with ART, and with yet more seasons of ridiculously unrealistic serial dramas, all tied up with a burgeoning conflict between the exploitive Corporate Rim and pockets of egalitarian resistance.

As complete in itself and entertaining as Network Effect is, I highly recommend reading the previous works first. Themes run like seams of gold from one story to the next as Murderbot develops self-awareness, compassion, friendships, and purpose. This doesn’t happen instantly or easily. Growing up is hard, and even harder when one is a newly empowered consciousness in an organo-mechanical body capable of mass murder at a moment’s notice.

The struggle from being a mere tool to becoming a person often takes unexpected, poignant turns. I found some of the most touching moments to be when Murderbot realizes with confusion that while a few humans treat them as a person, the majority of others don’t, and Murderbot’s nurturing mentorship of another SecUnit. It’s said that the best way to solidify growth is to guide another, and this is true here. By giving SecUnit 3 the key to disabling its own governing module and then asking, “What do you want?” Murderbot may be igniting a robotic revolution. We’ll see where the next installment leads.

Needless to say, Network Effect grabbed me on the first page and held my rapt attention through plot twists, heart-pounding perils, and tender moments. The entire series is highly recommended.

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Martha Wells is superb, as always. Network Effect continues the great Murderbot Diaries series in a full- length novel. I cannot wait for the next one.

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Man, I didn't think a novel could sustain the fun that the novellas have, but it sure did. Murderbot is a great character and I liked every page of this one. I'll definitely recommend these stories to my students who are interested in scifi.

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