All Systems Red

All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Published by Tom Doherty Associates on May 2, 2017
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction, Science Fiction, Biopunk
Pages: 144

Sometimes high expectations can ruin your experience with a book.  I’ve been meaning to try the Murderbot Diaries for a while after hearing so much praise.  Unfortunately, All Systems Red (the first book in the series) was not for me.

The story’s protagonist is a SecUnit (Security Unit) that has named itself Murderbot.  Murderbot is a cyborg whose function is to protect its team of humans on space expeditions.  Unaware to anyone Murderbot has hacked its government module giving it full autonomy.  During their current expedition the team notices missing areas on their government supplied maps.  They investigate the missing areas and uncover a conspiracy. 

The biggest appeal for all systems red is Murderbot they have a great sense of humor. Their wry observations on the human crewmates are entertaining. Murderbot is arguably just as human as any other crewmate. I especially related to Murderbot’s passion for soap operas and other trashy media.

I thought the plot of All Systems Red was very simplistic and generic. The answer to the main mystery was not exciting. I believe that authors shouldn’t include mysteries in their books unless the answer is clever or surprising. When I read science fiction I want an immersive and complex story. For me Martha Well’s novella lacked world building and character development outside of Murderbot.  It’s been a few weeks after finishing the book and I can’t remember anything significant about the human crewmembers. While I enjoyed the character of Murderbot it’s not enough to make me want to continue with the series.  This provides me with a great opportunity to work on one of my 2022 reading goals!

The completionist in me wants to finish every book series I start. I have suffered through many mediocre books because of this bad habit. However, it is time for me to embrace one of my 2022 reading goals. I will DNF the Murderbot Diaries. Well, technically I didn’t DNF the book (it was only 150 pages can you blame me?) But I will not read the next book and will spend time with other stories I’ll hopefully enjoy more instead.


Windup Girl

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Published by Start Publishing LLC on May 5, 2015
Genres: Biopunk, Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 376

Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, a biopunk, dystopian science fiction novel, depicts a bleak future that feels alarmingly possible. The world’s produce has become limited, due to bio-engineered plagues wiping out crops. Genetic codes for lost produce have become lucrative information sought out by “calorie men”. One such American, Anderson Lake, travels to Bangkok in search of fruits and vegetables to mass produce for the West. Bangkok has managed to isolate itself and remains one of the only regions where produce is still grown without the influence of the capitalistic calorie companies. Anderson runs a kink-spring factory, a futuristic power source, as a cover for his calorie man endeavors. Heck Seng, a Chinese refugee, working at Anderson’s factory is hoping to steal his kink-spring technology to gain wealth. While in Bangkok, Anderson encounters Emiko, a bio engineered woman, or windup girl, who works at a strip club. Windups are seen as evil, non-human beings, designed to be laborers, soldiers or sex workers. Other characters in the story are on either side of a conflict between Bangkok’s Trade Ministry and Environment Agency. These storylines are initially separate but converge by the story’s epic conclusion.

One of the many things I loved about this book is the moral complexity of the characters. Bacigalupi’s characters are written as believable people that are motivated by power, greed, and survival. While all the characters are great, I found myself most attached to the characters of Heck Seng and Emiko. I got excited whenever I reached a chapter told from either of their perspectives. Heck Seng became the most interesting character, once his heartbreaking backstory was revealed. I believe Emiko, aka the windup girl, was ironically the most human of any of the book’s characters. When her character was first introduced I was concerned. Emiko seemed to represent the unfortunate stereotype of the submissive, sexualized Asian woman. I was relieved when Bacigalupi rejected this stereotype by taking Emiko’s character in a very different direction. The novel’s worldbuilding is excellent. Rather than have all the info dumped on the reader from the start, Bacigalupi parcels out information about his world at a slow, deliberate pace. Deciphering the society’s structure and figuring out how they got to where they are was a lot of fun. I felt like an anthropologist piecing together the history of Paolo’s world. Another highlight for me was the inclusion of Asian fruits, such as rambutan, durian, and lychee (especially the rambutan, what an addicting snack), all of which my husband recently introduced me to after a trip to H Mart. Religious and cultural themes are weaved throughout the story. The morals of many characters stem from Buddhist beliefs. A fellow reader pointed some subtle references to Noah’s ark that foreshadow later events in the story. I also found themes of colonialism represented by the white calorie man.

There is one queer character in the book that works for the Environment Agency and she is a bad-ass. I found myself rooting for her and her character arc was very satisfying.

This book contains strong scenes of sexual assault. One specific scene (you will know it when you read it) was especially intense and difficult to read.

I rate this book five out of five stars. Fans of Westworld or A Song of Ice and Fire will enjoy this book. I would just recommend that you wait to pick this up until you are in the mood for an immersive, challenging read.

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assualt