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Tag: Cyberpunk

Review: Network Effect (Murderbot #5)

I adore Murderbot. Martha Wells’ dissociative, depressive, anxious, asexual, agender, soap-opera-loving AI is among the most brilliant and deeply human characters of modern science fiction. The four novellas that form the first arc of SecUnit’s life as a free agent are an absolute delight of cyberpunk espionage and military SF. So, when I knew a full-blown novel was coming, I. Could. Not. Wait.

Network Effect is listed as “Book 5” in the series, but really, it’s kind of Arc 2. Or possibly even just the beginning of it. The story follows Murderbot, living on the planet Preservation after the events in Exit Strategy. On the way back from a survey mission, its team is intercepted by a familiar space vessel. Some of them are taken captive, including Murderbot itself.

Things only get weird from there.

Network Effect is a more ambitious work than the preceding stories. It expands into various directions — from alien remnants and corporate intrigue, to AI identity and the extreme awkwardness of bots trying to figure out how friendship works. Some-magical-how, Murderbot manages to both be its lovable autistic self, and visibly grow before the reader’s eyes. The book even offers the POV of another SecUnit at some point, in a brilliant demonstration of how unique these individuals are.

The book takes a second to fire up all cylinders (like I know how cars work…). The first third is a tad slower than I would have liked. But it makes up for it with a much higher level of mystery, and a way more complex story. Once the entire cast is on stage, and the revelations start piling up, Network Effect not only reaches, but surpasses its predecessors on practically every level.

Martha Wells has unlimited credit with me at this point. If she only writes Murderbot novels for the rest of her life (I hope she does not, but, yunno, if), I will still be the happiest non-augmented human on Earth. And if you are yet to experience the brilliance of this series, there is a solution! First, find a shame nun meme, and look at it until you regret the choices that led you here. Then attack All Systems Red with extreme prejudice.

And for those of us up to date — Book 6, Fugitive Telemetry is coming out in less than a year!

Working on the Craft: The Royal We

Another exercise from The 3 A.M. Epiphany, aiming at a split personality first person plural narrative, in which the perspective is from the point of view of the group, while each individual member is described in third. The point is to describe a melding of thoughts and feelings within a tight-knit group. For some reason, this instantly made me think of telepathy or data-share, which naturally led me to dystopian cyberpunk, because my brain is extremely predictable. I opted out of geshtalt-writing, because that felt like cheating. Anyway, here is my 600-word attempt.

We climbed to the top of the crater at dawn, and the Cluster bloomed in front of us. An ugly, disjointed sprawl of prefab housing cubes, piled precariously on top of each other, surrounding the dome of Paris like filthy beggars reaching desperately for scraps. Which they were.

Jeriko flashed the sight to Axe, who was being led by Shim while her goggles rebooted. Axe’s eyes had been taken the year past, sold to some Corpling by her douchebag father, and replaced by a subpar implant that kept glitching more and more with each passing month. She beamed now, happy to see what Jeriko did. Shin tried her best too, with her sinth-leg being the half-assed job that it was. Jeriko got flashes from her, discomfort making her lose control of her priv-filters.

We were all broken in one way or another, none of us mint. But together we were whole. The three of us were all we had, and we were about to make a play for the big leagues.

Her goggles rebooted, Axe let go of Shim’s hand and walked to where Jeriko stood, staring at the expanse of the Cluster. We flashed comfort at one another, like little bursts of tranq, to keep us afloat. We knew the dangers of crawling out of the crater were nothing, compared to those lying ahead. Miles upon miles of slums, where cy- and chem-drugs were the norm, you were either in a gang, or at the mercy of one, and everything that could be sold, was fair game for trafficking. We had escaped poverty and were about to enter desolation.

Shim checked the blades in her arms, humming with satisfaction when they vibrated in response under her skin. Jeriko’s hand rested on the hilt of the sword on his back, and Axe’s memes were armed, ready to debilitate any system that even so much as looked at us.

We had to make it through the warrens of the Cluster, hopefully in one piece, or close to. We could ill afford to lose parts at the best of times, and no time was less “best” than the times ahead. If we were hacked or dismantled, the only help we could hope for, would be for a price, and we could not pay. Axe’s weaponized meme-engine, Jeriko’s claymore, and rations for a week’s journey had depleted our already non-existent resources.

All three of us had agreed that this was a one-way trip, and it would end in one of two ways. Success. Or… not.

Because beyond the Cluster lay the dome of Paris. Few corp-cities left on the ground, most of them having gone orbital a generation ago. And fewer still even considered allowing outsiders in. And none of those were anywhere the three of us could reach on foot. So Paris it was. Not a paradise, by any stretch of the imagination. Corps had seen to that. But better than where we had grown up, better than what future we had out here.

Axe knew deep-server ops. Jeriko was auged for strength and speed. And Shin had connections sprawling throughout the Cluster. Not enough for safe passage, of course. But between the three of us, we had a chance for a foot at the door, and a hand hopefully strong enough to hold said door from slamming on said foot.

The Cluster awaited us. Beyond that – the corp-dome. And beyond that still, maybe a chance at the stars. We flashed emotion at each other, the three of us sharing this experience, standing at the threshold of a journey with no certain end. A hand reached, and another clasped it. A muscle smile here, a flashed one there.

We started forward.