Quick Review: NETWORK EFFECT by Martha Wells (Tor.com)

WellsM-MB5-NetworkEffectMurderbot/SecUnit returns in its first full-length novel

You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you’re a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you’re Murderbot.

Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century.

I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90 plus percent of my problems are.

When Murderbot’s human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.

Drastic action it is, then.

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.


Martha Wells’s Network Effect is out now, published by Tor.com in North America and in the UK. The next book in the series, Fugitive Telemetry, is also out now.

Also on CR: Reviews of All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received via NetGalley

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