Fugitive Telemetry, the sixth Murderbot book in the bestselling science fiction series by Martha Wells, has the beats I love from locked room murder mysteries and procedural crime dramas, and it has the voice and themes I love from the Murderbot series. It’s just as engaging and affirming as the rest of the series has been so far and I remain impressed with Wells’ character-building and worldbuilding.
Fugitive Telemetry is novella-length, and takes place before the events of the full length novel Network Effect. I found it nice to be back on Preservation, and I felt like I learned more about Preservation and Murderbot’s interactions there that will make rereading Network Effect rewarding. I suspect that in the future, this book will come before Network Effect in suggested reading order of the Murderbot series, so go ahead and read this one even if you haven’t read Network Effect yet.
At the beginning of Fugitive Telemetry, Murderbot is reluctantly assisting Station Security with a problem that seems somewhat outside their scope: a murdered human has been dumped in a hallway, and in Preservation, Murderbot’s nigh-utopian new home, that sort of thing just doesn’t happen. Murderbot, of course, is used to dealing with humans who have died violently, from its long experience as a SecUnit before it came to Preservation.
Advertised as a locked space station murder mystery, the beginning of Fugitive Telemetry actually feels more like a crime procedural because it starts with an unidentified corpse and Murderbot working with security to figure out what happened. For instance, one of Murderbot’s first moves is to ask Tellus, a “free” maintenance bot for help, which also feels procedural.
But as the story goes on, it’s a fast-paced action story as I have grown to expect from Murderbot books, with Murderbot’s voice and a cast of humans we already know. Ratthi, Pin-Lee, Gurathin and of course Mensah all feature, as do other Preservation leaders of various kinds.
At the end, the reveal when the mystery is solved is terrific. It is in keeping with the Murderbot universe but also just the kind of solution you’d expect from a locked country house murder mystery.
I recently learned the concept of a Garden Path Sentence, and I feel Fugitive Telemetry has a similar status of a Garden Path genre. Like Provenance by Ann Leckie, another book I love, it seems to change genre midstride multiple times, and at the end, invites rereading so that the whole can be understood with the knowledgeable perspective of a reader who knows whodunnit and how and why.
While the genre may seem to shift, Fugitive Telemetry is still consistent in its theme. Like all the Murderbot books, Fugitive Telemetry assures readers that even if you don’t particularly like yourself, you can still do a lot of good in the world and be valued by those you care about. You can have a support system, and be part of a support system for others as well, even if you don’t think you deserve it.
Fans like to discuss Murderbot’s fun and likeable snarky voice, and while I agree that is a huge draw, I think it is also this comforting theme that leads to Murderbot’s popularity.
In a Question and Answer event with the Short Story Club after Network Effect was published, Wells received a question about what might be next for Murderbot. Wells mentioned Fugitive Telemetry was already in the works, and she also said she felt it’s still early days in the Murderbot series. This book, which deals with Preservation’s Port, and ships that travel to Preservation from all kinds of allied polities as well as the Corporation Rim, helps widen the scope of the world even though Murderbot stays at the same Station for the whole plot.
It’s a really big universe and I look forward to more stories in it.