Bitesize Books: Fugitive Telemetry

Book cover: Fugitive Telemetry - Martha WellsIt’s a new chapter for Murderbot! Now a resident of Preservation Station, the snarky SecUnit is half-heartedly looking for contracts and enthusiastically pointing out the inadequacies of Station Security. When a dead body is found, it’s time to show them how this is really done. Just like in the shows, yeah?


If Exit Strategy neatly tied up the Murderbot Diaries, Fugitive Telemetry cheerfully opens up new possibilities. Old tensions have not completely disappeared: Murderbot is still worried about Dr Mensah’s safety and convinced GrayCris will appear to take another pop at her; and not all the locals are as comfortable with having a free range SecUnit on Station as Dr Mensah and her team.

Still, Murderbot has mostly got comfortable with its odd status on Preservation Station and largely come to an awkward truce with Station Security: it won’t hack Station systems and they’ll stop assuming it’s a ruthless killing machine that could go on a deadly spree at any moment. Now it just has to field stupid requests like publishing its name on its feed ID (it’s pretty sure they wouldn’t see the funny side) and try to persuade them it really would be better if they’d listen to its recommendations for improving Station security practices (never going to happen). With Dr Mensah and Pin-Lee running interference as exasperated but encouraging parental figure and pugnacious lawyer respectively, things are almost acceptable.

And then a dead body is found in a quiet corridor.

Of course the problem with being the obnoxious SecUnit consultant with all the criticisms is that there’s very little room for you to fuck up. Threat assessment indicates that the large quantity of criminal investigation ‘experience’ gleaned from hours of watching media is largely bullshit (damn), and its past life as a corporate SecUnit didn’t really cover this sort of thing. Just as well Station Security haven’t ever done this before either.

I don’t know what made Martha Wells come up with the notion of having Murderbot investigate a murder, but frankly everything about this stand-alone novella is perfect. Having previously noted that I was finding the hacking a bit repetitive, Fugitive Telemetry blocks that avenue off, pushing Murderbot to – resentfully – use other skills to progress the investigation. Instead, it talks to other bots and persuades them to share information (not as traumatic when there’s no human involved. Bots don’t need eye contact). When it starts to run out of options, it enlists old allies Ratthi (who it has been assisting with his research) and Gurathin (with whom its relationship remains as antagonistic as ever. I am still laughing that Murderbot makes notes to tell other members of the team to tell Gurathin things he should probably know), both of whom are way too keen to help and also way better at threat assessment (at least where the threat pertains to Murderbot).

I loved this novella for the low-key world-building (Preservation vs the Corporation Rim; the notion of languages – and the scope for translation errors; the shading in of further detail on the recurring theme of corporate indenture) and for the developing relationship between Murderbot and the Station Security team. Sure, Murderbot gets right to crime-solving because it wants to make a point of solving it before Station Security, but there’s also a hint that deep down – whether it would admit it or not – it wants to be accepted (no, it wouldn’t admit it). As the investigation proceeds, it finds that collaborating with others isn’t actually totally awful. And sometimes humans can even surprise you in a good way.

With a gradual build up leading to an extended action sequence, Fugitive Telemetry felt well-balanced and exactly the right length. It’s a brilliant one-shot that fits seamlessly into the bigger picture of the Diaries and leaves me deeply pleased by this week’s news that Tor have commissioned a heap more Murderbot from Martha Wells. Brilliant.

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Fugitive Telemetry is released today in the US and as an eBook in the UK; the hardback will be available in the UK from June.