Written by Sophie
System Collapse is the seventh entry in the Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells, and never has Murderbot been more vulnerable. Accidentally thrust into an exploratory mission to find possible colonists near the terraforming engine on a hostile planet, it takes several supreme efforts of will for Murderbot to be able to do its security job. What makes everything worse is that there are now several groups of humans it calls its own, and feels very protective of, and its friend ART (Asshole Research Transport) can’t fully join it on its mission on account of the static surrounding the terraforming engine.
Murderbot is truly tested to the max, even more than before, because the emotions it so abhors having are right there up in its face, all the time. And figuring out how to be autonomous and human-ish is difficult enough for regular people, never mind constructs consisting of half robot bits, half human bits. Add in the corporate goons of Barish-Estranza trying to lure the colonists into a lifetime of indentured work, no proper armor and only four drones, and what difference can a Murderbot even make?
I found System Collapse a little slow to get going, although considering the depth of Murderbot’s trauma (from Network Effect), it makes a lot of sense for it to start somewhat muted. There are some moments where Murderbot really has to face its fears, and the way it reluctantly does so I found very recognisable and touching. I also really enjoyed how it thinks its way out of the impasse, and how it discovers a little bit more of its purpose by the end of the novella. For all that this is the most introspective of the Diaries, there are also some stand-out moments of action, most notably the opening sequence, and one near the end involving enemy SecUnits and a McGyvered shuttle. All in all I really loved it.
Having said that, though, I would advise anyone who wants to get into the Murderbot Diaries (and please do, this sarcastic soap-opera-watching construct is one of the most human sci-fi characters you’ll meet), to read the books in chronological Murderbot time. I re-read the whole series that way and it significantly upped the enjoyment for me (re-reading this series does not take as long as you might fear because most entries are novellas and the pace is generally frantic). I could keep better track of the various corporations and factions and planets, and the books form two continuous stories, with chronological-part-5 as the break between them. If you can, also read the two free online short stories for a few added little nuggets.
Chronological Murderbot time: 0.5 The Future of Work: Compulsory – 1. All Systems Red – 2. Artificial Condition – 3. Rogue Protocol – 4. Exit Strategy – 4.5 Home: Habit, Range, Niche, Territory – 5. Fugitive Telemetry – 6. Network Effect – 7. System Collapse