Rogue Protocol

by Martha Wells

Cover image

Series: Murderbot Diaries #3
Publisher: Tor.com
Copyright: August 2018
ISBN: 1-250-18543-2
Format: Kindle
Pages: 150

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This is the third Murderbot novella. It could probably be read on its own, since each is a self-contained story, but reading in order will add some depth via the increasing thoughtfulness of Murderbot's motives.

There needs to be an error code that means "I received your request but decided to ignore you."

Murderbot is trying to get out of the Corporation Rim. Its former owner, GrayCris, is entangled in litigation over its sketchy actions (told in the previous novellas), including a failed terraforming attempt outside of the Corporation Rim. This is a convenient combination. Murderbot can get out of the Rim and away from potential pursuers while looking around the terraforming attempt for evidence that could hurt GrayCris. And possibly also give its primary rescuer from All Systems Red less justification to be fighting dangerous corporations and more reason to go home where she will be safe.

That's how Murderbot ends up as unexpected passenger security on a trip to HaveRotten station, giving rise to the above quote (and several other great moments).

Starting at HaveRotten station, Rogue Protocol follows a similar path as Artificial Condition: Murderbot picks up some humans on the way to its objective (in this case, the team from the company that took over the failing terraforming station and is surveying it), can't resist trying to protect them, and ends up serving as security because, well, someone has to. This time around, that comes with irritated and disgusted criticism of the failings of the human security that is supposed to be doing that job. That was the best part of the book. The situation isn't quite what it appears to be on the surface, of course, which leads to some tense and exciting tactical maneuvering on an abandoned station against daunting odds.

The new element of Rogue Protocol is Miki, another humanform robot. I had mixed feelings about Miki. I think this was intentional — Murderbot also has mixed feelings about Miki — but I'm still not sure if I liked the overall effect. It is more naive and simple-minded than Murderbot, but is the friend of one of the humans. Murderbot, and the reader, are initially suspicious that "pet" may be a better word than "friend," but that's not quite the case. It's a disturbing look at another option for sentient robots in this universe other than simple property, one that's better in some ways, and which seems to work for Miki, but is nonetheless ripe for abuse.

Miki is central to the emotional thrust of the novella, and I can't argue this didn't work on me. I think the reason why I have some lingering discomfort is that Miki is right on the border of a slave who wants to be a slave, belongs to someone who doesn't quite treat it like one (but could), and (unlike Murderbot) is probably incapable of deciding to be something else. I'm sure this was intentional on Wells part; a primary theme of this series is the nature of self-determination in a universe that treats you like property. It's also a long-standing SF theme that's fair game to explore. But it still bothered me the more I thought about it, and I'm not sure Miki's owner/friend, or this novella, fully engages with the implications.

That element bumped my enjoyment of this entry of the series a little lower, but this is still solidly entertaining stuff. Murderbot's internal critique of other people's security decisions is worth the price of entry by itself, and I'm still delighted by its narrative voice. I continue to recommend this whole series.

Followed by Exit Strategy.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2019-12-19

Last spun 2020-02-23 from thread modified 2019-12-20