All Systems Red by Martha Wells: An Amazing Start to the Murderbot Series

All Systems Red book cover

Book Blurb

Winner: 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella
Winner: 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novella
Winner: 2018 Alex Award
Winner: 2018 Locus Award
One of the Verge’s Best Books of 2017
New York Times and USA Today Bestseller


A murderous android discovers itself in All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that interrogates the roots of consciousness through Artificial Intelligence.


“As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.”

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Damn All Systems Red by Martha Wells was amazing. It’s no wonder that the entire The Murderbot Diaries is a New York Times bestselling series.

** Some spoilers below **

The novella is 155 pages of sci-fi action and humor. What a fantastic combination so infrequently used in the science fiction genre. It seems like since the passing of Douglas Adams, no author finds any room for humor in their stories. That’s not the case with Martha Wells.

I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainments channels carried on the company satellites.

-Opening line from All Systems Red

Meet Murderbot. Murderbot is a SecUnit under contract with a PreservationAux survey team led by Dr. Mensah. SecUnits exist to protect their assigned team from any threats on an alien planet during surveys. 

This particular SecUnit, Murderbot, managed to hack its governor – the device that gives humans control over its actions. Heavily armed and well trained in combat, Murderbot could have instantly gone on a killing spree. Luckily, he found a cache of soap operas on the company’s version of the internet.

All SecUnits have armor that not only covers their body but also their face. Despite having a human appearance, their human employers seldom glimpse a SecUnit’s actual appearance. 

At the beginning of All Systems Red, Murderbot receives many injuries while saving the team of researchers from an unexpected attack of an indigenous species on the alien planet. Murderbot’s armor is damaged and needs repair, as does his body. 

While recovering, Dr. Mensah summons Murderbot to assess the attack. The SecUnit, lacking armor, dresses in human clothing and meets with the team. None recognize him, except for Dr. Mensah. 

Soon after, the survey team learns the SecUnit is now autonomous and despite having malfunctioned once and killed 57 people, decide to trust Murderbot and welcome him as a member of their team.

The survey team (and SecUnit) deduce information related to local fauna was deleted from their maps. This leads them to contact another survey team, who agrees to share their maps with the survey team. 

Before both teams can meet and exchange data, the second team is murdered, exposing the truth – there’s a third team on the planet and they are dangerous.

EvilSurvey Team vs. PreservationAux Team

The rest of the novella revolves around the PreservationAux team completing their investigation while staying alive. EvilSurvey team has their own SecUnits and have shown their willingness to murder other survey teams to keep their secrets hidden. 

Will the PreservationAux team prevail and survive? 

Pick up a copy and find out for yourself. You won’t regret it.

Get your copy on Amazon!

PS: The biggest complaint I’ve seen related to this novella isn’t about the story itself, but about the cost of the other novellas in the series. This book cost me $3.99 on Amazon, however the others sell for $10.99, which I agree is ridiculous. 

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