Rogue Protocol: The Murderbot Diaries
“a very entertaining story, with a thoroughly likable and intriguing (if unhuman) narrator”
Rin is a highly-developed Artificial Intelligence, originally a security unit who, it has been told, went on a rampage and killed everyone under its protection. Rin itself has no memory of that act. Purchased and saved from destruction by Dr. Mensah, it’s now on a mission to discover how the corporation GrayCris (“a corporation collecting complaints about sketchy contracts and exclusive-use deals on various sites that have been abandoned though nobody knew why”) is involved and get that information to its owner. Rin thinks GrayCris is behind the charges against it.
“A SecUnit’s job is to protect its clients from anything that wants to kill or hurt them, and to gently discourage them from killing, maiming, etc., each other. The reason why they’re trying to kill, main., etc., each other isn’t the SecUnit’s problem. That’s for the humans’ supervisor to deal with. There needs to be an error code that means, ‘I received your request but decided to ignore you.’”
Rin’s story is divided into four parts and in this one, combat bots on a deserted facility in orbit and human assassins threaten the lives of the investigation team sent to assess the damage before the satellite crashes to Earth. Rin tells itself it doesn’t care what happens to them. It only wants the proof it’s seeking, but old habits (and programming) die hard, and soon it’s masquerading as a SecUnit assigned to accompany them.
While this is a very entertaining story, with a thoroughly likable and intriguing (if unhuman) narrator, the brevity makes it seem more an episode than a complete novel. It’s obviously part of a series, as if a novel were divided into novellas to draw out and pique the reader into coming back for more.
Nevertheless, it’s surely the personality of its main character that will keep readers coming back for more. Rin’s is fascinating, a highly-evolved Artificial Intelligence on a mission, continually finding himself protecting a bunch of hapless humans when he’d rather simply hide away and watch the videos he’s downloaded.
With no background explanation, the reader is dropped immediately into the story, and while there are vague allusions to what’s happened before, there’s little expository details. Clues gathered here and there: The AI calls himself “Murderbot.” There’s no explanation as to why, unless it’s because at some point, it (he?) allegedly murdered a group of humans it was supposed to protect.
A Dr. Mensah kept Murderbot from destruction by buying it, but now Murderbot is trying to prove the corporation GrayCris is behind all the nefarious doings. How the AI got to where he is at this point in the story isn’t really explained. Suffice it to say, he’s stowing away on a ship taking scientists to an abandoned terraforming facility expected to crash soon to Earth and he’s going along in hopes of finding the proof he needs and get it back to Dr. Mensah.
The reader is given little information on how Rin (to use the name the AI gives itself in this story) looks physically (perhaps that was done in Book #1), except that he probably has a humanoid appearance and is partly cyborg, since he bleeds and has human integument on various parts of his body. He wears clothing and apparently is able to mingle with true humans without being readily recognized as not one of them. Other than that, it’s up to the imagination as to how the teller of this tale actually looks.
The contrast between Rin and Miki, the android used by the scientists, is played up, showing how Miki, scornfully called a “petbot” by Rin. Miki has fewer capabilities than Rin, and possesses a child-like quality of trust and emotion that Rin at times envies. Or perhaps it’s simply that Rin also has those same qualities but he’s buried them in order to accomplish the goals he’s set as well as due to the functions programmed into him. The questions may be: How self-aware can an artificial intelligence become if given opportunity? How much is due to environment versus programming?
Rin itself questions its actions. As it says, “I was having an emotion. An angry one. I don’t know why I was reacting this way. Was I jealous of the bot? I didn’t want to be a pet robot. What did Miki have that I wanted? I had no idea. I didn’t know what I wanted. And yes, I know that was probably a big part of the problem right there.”
Rin is a unique and intriguing character, sarcastic, brave, whether he wasn’t to be or not, determined to keep safe any human deliberately or accidentally finding himself under its protection. He’s likable, even at his most deadly. He points out humanity’s own weaknesses and strengths while not realizing he also shares some of those same faults. Perhaps that’s his appeal. He’s all too human, while also being all too unhuman. After this series is concluded, it’s a sure bet, Martha Wells’ fans will be begging for more stories about Rin.