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“Rogue Protocol” by Martha Wells

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The sarcastic, perpetually exasperated title character of Martha Wells’s Murderbot series is back in the novella Rogue Protocol.  This time, their investigation of GrayCris’s various unethical dealings takes them to an abandoned terraforming station that’s more than what it appears to be.

The general form of the plot will be familiar to readers of the previous installment, Artificial Condition. Murderbot would much rather conduct their investigation on their own, but they find themselves saddled with a bunch of humans who they need to protect while simultaneously concealing their nature as a truly free-willed SecUnit. Over the course of the story, they find themselves becoming attached to these humans, as well as to a less-sophisticated AI.

While Murderbot’s attempts to uncover the machinations of GrayCris are certainly interesting, this is primarily a character-driven story. Murderbot’s trademark misanthropy and snark are on full display here, with a number of lines that provoked a chuckle from me. On a more serious note, I appreciated the continuing exploration of questions about personhood and sapience. One moment in particular really tugged at the heartstrings.

That said, this did feel a bit slighter than the previous entries in the series. Some readers have voiced the criticism that the first few Murderbot stories are more like arcs of a single plot than complete books. This isn’t entirely off-base. All Systems Red felt like a complete story to me, but Artificial Condition and Rogue Protocol do read as if they were meant to be part of a larger story. This is more likely to be the fault of the publisher than of Wells, though, and I did find the story entertaining regardless.

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