Can a story about a murderbot be funny, charming and even a tiny bit touching? Yes, it can.
In the short novel All Systems Red Martha Wells presents a story told from the point of view of a SecUnit–an android designed to protect humans who, in this case, are mapping out an unknown planet on behalf of their corporate masters. Events take a turn for the deadly when a neighboring habitat’s humans are found dead, victims of an unknown assault.
Despite the grim setting, Wells presents the partly-organic and sex organ-free (“If a construct has those it’s a sexbot”) android as a delightfully fretful being that really wants to protect its humans, even if it is kind of afraid of interacting with them (it prefers opaquing its helmet to avoid making eye contact).
The story, such as it is, is really just a stage for the murderbot to act on, and while it gets the opportunity to use its arm-mounted cannons, it spends most of its time consuming serials and other media it’s downloaded, and pondering what–or who–it is and what it wants to be.
It’s not as profound as it sounds. But it is consistently amusing, thanks to SecUnit’s droll telling of the tale.
My only real criticism is minor–the story ends a bit abruptly, setting up the next chapter of The Murderbot Diaries. Otherwise, very much recommended.