Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!
Have you ever gone through a period where you’re finding it hard to focus on one book or take the time to read? I’ve been sick for a few weeks, and I’ve discovered that the answer to this is audiobook novellas! Today’s recommendation is a series I’ve been marathoning from my library, and it’s made me feel like I’m actually reading way more than I have the energy for at the moment.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
In this series starter novella, a security AI unit in a sci-fi world has hacked its protocols and is in full control of itself…but it’s hiding it pretty well because contrary to popular belief, it has no desire to do much more than watch media. After naming itself Murderbot (not that it advertises this), it pretty much does all the work that it’s supposed to do as a security unit for a human research team on a distant planet, using all its free time to watch shows and think about not caring about humans. But when an attack on another research outpost puts its humans on edge, Murderbot realizes that they might be the next targets and has to act to ensure that doesn’t happen…even if humans are totally stupid and frustrating and a distraction from what’s happening in the next episode of The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon. But perhaps the most surprising development comes when Murderbot begins to actually care about what happens to them.
I am not normally the type to take to non-human narrators in fiction, but Murderbot totally won me over within the space of a few pages. Here is a funny, snarky, and maybe a bit nihilistic robot who just wants to be left alone, but soon finds that when it starts caring, it’s hard to stop. The humor is pitch perfect, and the action scenes are thrilling. I think it can be a challenge to write highly technical sci-fi and not have readers lose interest or lose track of what’s going on, but Wells does a really great job of balancing the technical details, world building, and character development with moments of great tension and comic relief. Although Murderbot’s character arcs and inner journeys seem deceptively simple throughout this book and into the sequels (Murderbot learns that it’s good to care about others, Murderbot learns to make friends, Murderbot learns that it’s worthwhile to take own evil corporations even if there isn’t anything in it for Murderbot personally), I think that’s what makes these novellas so…endearing? And engaging? Because we are watching a robot who self-identifies as a Murderbot (for reasons, which will be divulged) learn what it means to be human, and there’s something really great about that journey. Also, it’s funny as hell.
The audiobooks narrated by Kevin R. Free are really excellent, and Free has great comedic timing. The series is running seven novellas and one novel strong at this point, and I can’t recommend them enough!
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