Saturday, September 26, 2020

Rogue Protocol (Murderbot #3) - Martha Wells


I can’t help but feel a little confused by the third book of Martha Wells’s “Murderbot Diaries.” It’s not the plot or the characters that confuse me, though. It’s more a question of why the whole book - all 158 pages of it - was not simply tacked onto the ending of the previous book – also of about 150 pages – and published as the novel it was meant to be. As it is, Rogue Protocol breaks almost no new ground either plot-wise or character-wise, and I doubt that I would have stayed with it all the way through if I had picked it up as a standalone novella. It was tough enough, at times, to do that anyway because I started to feel as if I were reading a story I had already read, and that only the names of most of the characters had changed.  

Murderbot is still trying to gather evidence against GrayCris Corporation, the cut-throat company that is so willing to murder its competitors in the name of increased profits. Murderbot is still officially a rogue SecUnit on the run, and as such, he’s forced to live in the shadows. Still, most often by teaming up with other artificial-intelligence creations, he manages to make his way from planet to planet without being captured. 

That doesn’t mean that it’s been easy, or that it’s going to be, because Murderbot’s big weakness keeps getting him in trouble. He still has a soft spot in his “heart” for humans, and he keeps stumbling into situations where several rather na├»ve human scientists have to be protected from the evil GrayCris Corporation. And, since Murderbot is heading in the same direction, he finds it impossible to keep himself from taking the humans under his wing – whether they always realize it or not. 

But all of that is part of the problem I had with Rogue Protocol. Wells assumes that all of her readers are already going to have Murderbot’s backstory, so she doesn’t spend much time developing the book’s newest characters (granted, they are only passing through, anyway) or the backstory. Consequently, Murderbot does not come across as nearly the compassionate and ironically funny character he is in the first two books in the series. And then there’s yet another claustrophobic jaunt down long hallways dotted with dangerous intersections, as Murderbot frantically tries to get his humans to safety while fighting one combat bot after another. 

The best part of Rogue Protocol is Miki, the little bot that just wants a friend like himself. Even as Miki is recklessly throwing his body into every battle alongside Murderbot (despite being hopelessly overmatched), he’s more concerned with hurting Murderbot’s feelings than with the danger to himself. He loves his humans, and they love him, but Miki truly treasures his first friendship with someone “like him.” 

Bottom Line: It seems that the publisher of the Murderbot Diaries made more of a business decision than a literary one with the way the company handled Rogue Protocol. This one could, and probably should, have been the second half of its predecessor, Artificial Condition, even though it would have probably seemed a little repetitive that way. As it was, two Murderbot Diary novellas and one Murderbot Diary novel were published in 2018, rather than what could easily have been two novels.

Martha Wells

6 comments:

  1. Too bad the story wasn't just about Miki. That sounds like a book I'd like to read.

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    1. Miki was definitely the best part of the plot. Thankfully, the little bot was a main character and played a role in everything that happened. Come to think of it, that's probably why I did read this one all the way through.

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  2. Hmmm. I need to get back to the Murderbot books before I forget the ones I've already read. :)

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    1. Maybe so, Jen...there's not a whole lot in this third one that will refresh your memory. It's just more evidence-gathering by Murderbot.

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  3. Miki does sound like the best part of this one. :)

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    1. Definitely so, Lark. Spoiler alert: it doesn't end well for the little guy, so there won't be a second book for him.

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