Martha Wells “All Systems Red”

Artificial creatures, beings that are made and not born, have been described in oral history since ancient times. In Jewish folklore, creatures that are made of clay or mud and then brought to a lifelike state are known as the golem. In Greek mythology, a king and a sculptor, Pygmalion falls in love with Galatea – a statue of his own creation. Aphrodite brings Galatea to life and the artist marries his art. In the Finnish epic “Kalevala”, the blacksmith Ilmarinen forges a woman out of gold to replace his lost wife.

Over decades, many notable robotic characters have also graced literary pages. The first to be actually called ‘robots’ are widely considered to be the serf-like forced labor machines in Karel Capek’s play “R.U.R”. And who could possibly forget the legendary, infinitely charming and painstakingly logical R. Daneel Olivaw or the almost magically gifted R. Giskard Reventlov – both created by Isaac Asimov for his Robot series. Or what about Marvin, the long-suffering, sullen and ill-tempered android from Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”? Or the suspiciously perfect Stepford wives in Ira Levin’s novel of the same name? These and many other robotic characters have become part of our collective literary consciousness and, quite often, the very literary heroes we hold dear.

In “All Systems Red”, Martha Wells gives us another artificial, yet animate and communicative, character – the Murderbot. Is there room for yet another robot in our collective literary history? There is definitely room for Murderbot! Without giving too much away and spoiling the story, let’s just say that Murderbot is unique, with a relatable inner-monologue (yes, I just called a MURDERbot relatable) and, believe it or not, endearing.

“All Systems Red” and all of its sequels (hurray! there are sequels) make a worthy addition to the long line of robotic characters that have made science fiction history. I highly recommend the book series to all fans of interesting character development in literature, whether or not you usually gravitate towards sci-fi novels.

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Tom Doherty Associates, 2017

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Kristel Palk
Head of the Department of Literature in Foreign Languages

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