August 7, 2018
Murderbot, whom I fell in love with both in All Systems Red and Artificial Condition, is back in Rogue Protocol, the third of four planned novellas in The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells.
The plot of Rogue Protocol is just as enjoyable as the first two, and the world expands to demonstrate more ways of being a person, human or otherwise, and how best to navigate interpersonal relationships. In this third installment, Murderbot is on its way to gather some data about a lawbreaking corporation when it meets up with another group of friendly humans and becomes responsible for their survival. What’s different this time is that the group of humans is working and traveling with Miki, a bot who is shaped like a human but has no organic parts. I envision a larger and more advanced C-3PO look for Miki.
When Murderbot meets Miki, it is suspicious of how accommodating and cheerful Miki is. Murderbot realizes that “Miki was a bot who had never been abused or lied to or treated with anything but indulgent kindness. It really thought its humans were its friends, because that’s how they treated it. I signaled Miki I would be withdrawing [from communications] for one minute. I needed to have an emotion in private.”
Just as meeting and interacting with ART, a super-intelligent AI, was important to Murderbot’s developing sense of the variety of AI and human relations in Artificial Condition, so too is meeting and interacting with Miki a significant turning point for Murderbot in Rogue Protocol. Over the course of the plot of Rogue Protocol, Murderbot is forced to acknowledge that humans can and do sometimes respect and even love AIs. By the end of the book, which has the fun and fast-paced action plot I have come to expect from this series, Murderbot has changed and grown.
But I must address the elephant in the room: the parentheses. They are rampant, and even somewhat distracting. The novella is not long, so I went ahead and counted all the parenthetical asides and there are 110. (One hundred and ten.) (That is a lot.)
I just did a quick scan for them; I may have missed some. But even so, that’s a high count for a book with 160 printed pages, and while the actual words are great — Martha Wells is a terrific, engaging writer narrating in the voice of a terrific, engaging character — very few of the parenthetical asides need to be presented that way. That is, the reading experience would be smoother if the words were just there without the parentheses.
It seems clear that the overabundance of parenthetical asides represents a conscious decision: at three different points throughout the book, I noticed two parenthetical asides back to back. That doesn’t happen accidentally.
I can see a way that the sheer number of asides might be an indication that Murderbot is becoming more socially aware, because parenthetical asides signify a level of self-consciousness about the relationship between the storyteller, the story itself, and a perceived audience. But, look: 110 is too many.
The obvious solution, if one is able, would be to avoid looking at any parentheses at all by listening to the audiobook version narrated by Kevin Free, a remarkable voice actor whose work I know from listening to the podcast Welcome to Nightvale back when my hearing was okay-er. His audiobook version of the first Murderbot book made All Systems Red is a New York Times bestseller, and while I find it difficult to listen to audiobooks, I am sure all of his are excellent.
As it is, I eagerly await the fourth novella in the series, Exit Strategy, to be released on October 2 of this year. I am sure that regardless of what happens in the book, it will be incredibly satisfying.