Exit Strategy: The Murderbot Diaries

Image of Exit Strategy: The Murderbot Diaries
Author(s): 
Release Date: 
October 2, 2018
Publisher/Imprint: 
Tor.com
Pages: 
176
Reviewed by: 

“Herein lies the question: Where does artificial intelligence end, and human be-ing (existence) begin?”

“When I got back to HaveRatton station, a bunch of humans tried to kill me. Considering how much I’d been thinking about killing a bunch of humans, it was only fair.”

Thus does Ren the Murderbot begin the final phase of his attempt to reach Dr. Mensah with the incriminating evidence against GrayCris.

Still trying to regain the memories of why it supposedly killed the humans it was to protect, Ren is now on its way to HaveRatton station with the evidence from Milu proving GrayCris is illegally in possession of synthetic alien remnants.

“The company had purged my memory, including my whole mass murder incident and the images hung around like ghosts in an endless historical family drama. I like endless historical family drama but in real life, ghosts are way more annoying.”

Having gotten to his destination disguised as an augmented human, Ren learns GrayCris has accused the doctor of corporate espionage. “Mensah is head of a planet. How can she be guilty of corporate espionage?”

Now the doctor has disappeared and is presumably on TranRollin Hyfa station. Knowing Mensah wouldn’t go to hostile territory voluntarily, Ren can only assume she’s been taken there by force, so that’s where it is going to go, also.

In the meantime, the evidence from Milu is been sent to Dr. Mensah’s home for safekeeping.

A retrieval army is also on the way to free the doctor, but GrayCris has managed to get TranRollinHyfa to refuse docking permission, so the company is momentarily stymied. They can’t land without fighting the station’s security.

The other members of Dr. Mensah’s team are nowhere to be found, having gotten past that operational prohibition and onto the station. Now Ren has not only the doctor but three other humans to worry about, especially since the humans are trying, in their own ineffectual way, to help.

Ren has plans to save the doctor, and alternate plans to save all four but one by one he has to abandon each, going from “Plan Actually Not All That Terrible,” to “Plan Approaching Terrible.”

Even after Mensah is in back in friendly territory, getting her off the station will be another matter. GrayCris has not only three SecUnits but a Combat SecUnit infiltrating the station’s system feed. The result is a long and deadly fight in which Ren will use all his programming to activate every drone, bot, and system available, until there is only one avenue left for the creation calling itself Murderbot to do to protect its owner/friend Dr. Mensah, and that’s to sacrifice itself.

Will even that be enough?

This segment of Ren’s story carries a great deal of action, prompting more of the SecUnit’s pithy remarks and observations on humans as opposed to robots while he’s watching its favorite videos in the background. Its interaction with the three humans it knows should’ve given it allies but Pin-Lee, Ratthi, and even augmented human Guranthin are so inept compared to Ren that they are more a detriment than actual assistance.

Though Ren’s search for the doctor is its main goal, its ambivalent feelings about humans continue to emerge. It experiences emotions, something it doesn’t like. Emotions are confusing, distasteful, contradictory sensations.

Ren is ambivalent about emotions because they make him uncomfortable. They get in the way of his programming, making him question what must be done. They make him human, whether he wants to be or not.

When it comes to the question of Ren’s humanity, two segments of the story are very telling. One is the bot’s interaction with Mensah’s daughter; the other is its answer when Mensah asks why it likes the video Sanctuary Moon.

“‘It made me feel like a person.’
‘You are a person.’
‘Not legally.’ Memory brought it back, vividly as if it had all just happened. (Stupid human neural tissue does that.) I managed not to say, ‘It gave me context for the emotions I was feeling.’”

Herein lies the question: Where does artificial intelligence end, and human be-ing (existence) begin?

“‘I don’t want to be human.’
Dr. Mensah said, ‘Humans don’t understand that. We tend to think that because a bot looks human, its ultimate goal is to become human.’”

Blown apart, disabled, with memory erased, Ren has to rebuild itself and with that, comes the expectation of a new life. Nevertheless, when all’s said and done, it’s actual fate is unresolved.

Ren is such a likable character that for those wishing a Happily Ever After ending, this will leave no closure and be dissatisfying. Left by Dr. Mensah to make its own choices, perhaps becoming a quasi-human, there is no hint as to which course it plans to take with its existence. Though the series may have finished, there are too many unanswered questions, leaving the reader with the hope that Ren’s story will eventually  continue in a new set of stories.