Fugitive Telemetry

by Martha Wells

Cover image

Series: Murderbot Diaries #6
Publisher: Tordotcom
Copyright: April 2021
ISBN: 1-250-76538-2
Format: Kindle
Pages: 167

Buy at Powell's Books

Fugitive Telemetry is the fifth Murderbot novella. It is not a sequel to the (as yet) lone novel, Network Effect. Instead, it takes place between Exit Strategy and Network Effect, filling in more of the backstory of the novel. You should not read it before Exit Strategy, but I believe it and Network Effect could be read in any order.

A human has been murdered on Preservation Station. That is not a thing that happens on Preservation Station, which is normally a peaceful place whose crime is limited to intoxication-related stupidity. Murderbot's first worry, and the first worry of his humans, is that this may be one of their enemies getting into position to target them. That risk at least makes the murder worth investigating, rather than leaving it solely to Station Security.

The problem from Murderbot's perspective is that there is an effective and efficient way of doing such an investigation, which starts with hacking into the security systems to get necessary investigative data and may end with the silent disposal of dead bodies of enemy agents. But this is Preservation Station, not the Corporation Rim, and Murderbot agreed to not do things like casually compromise all the station security systems or murder people who are security threats.

There was a big huge deal about it, and Security was all "but what if it takes over the station's systems and kills everybody" and Pin-Lee told them "if it wanted to do that it would have done it by now," which in hindsight was probably not the best response.

Worse, Murderbot's human wants it to work collaboratively with Station Security. That is a challenge, given that Security has a lot of reasons not to trust SecUnits, and Murderbot has a lot of reasons not to trust a security organization (not to mention considers them largely incompetent). Also, the surveillance systems are totally inadequate compared to the Corporation Rim for various financial and civil rights reasons that are doubtless wonderful except in situations where someone has been murdered. But hopefully the humans won't get in the way too much.

This is one of those books (well, novellas) that I finished a while back but then stalled out on reviewing. I think that's because I don't have that much to say about it. Network Effect pushed the world-building and Murderbot's personal storyline forward significantly, but Fugitive Telemetry doesn't pick up those threads. Instead, this is another novella in much the same vein as the first four. If you, like me, are eager to see where Wells takes the story after the events of the novel, this is somewhat disappointing. But if you enjoyed the novellas, this is more of what you enjoyed: snarky comments about humanity, competence porn, Murderbot getting pulled into problems somewhat against its will and then trying to sort them out, and the occasional touching moment of emotional connection that Murderbot escapes from as quickly as possible.

It's quite enjoyable, helped considerably by Wells's wise choice to not make the supporting human characters idiots. Collaboration is not Murderbot's strength; it is certain the investigation will be an endless series of frustrations and annoyances given the level of suspicion Station Security starts with. But some humans (and some SecUnits) are capable of re-evaluating their conclusions when given new evidence, and watching that happen is part of the fun of this novella.

What this novella is missing is the overarching plot structure of the rest of the series, since where this story sits chronologically doesn't leave much room for advancing or even deepening the plot arc. It therefore feels incidental: delightful while I was reading it, probably missable if you have to, and not something I spent time thinking about after I finished it.

If you liked the Murderbot novellas up until now, you will want to read this one. If you haven't started the series yet, this is not a place to start. If you want something more like the Network Effect novel, or a story where Murderbot makes significant decisions about its future, the wait continues.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2021-07-31

Last modified and spun 2021-08-08