My Favorite Android: The Murderbot Diaries

The first use of the word “robot” dates back to the 1920’s (robotnik or similar being a term for factory worker in many slavic languages), but the word “android,” meaning a miniature human-like automaton, is older, as far as 1863. A robot – a disembodied piece of machinery – does work for you – like a Roomba, or the useless rolling pest in the grocery store that spies on people who might steal things (at least Roomba can clean up a mess it finds, and doesn’t cost $35,000). An android looks like a human, moves like a human, interacts like a human (more or less), but inside is a machine.

That fact has led to a huge amount of introspection – how do we define Human? Is a self-aware, English-communicating Gorilla a person? What about our AI creations? When a computer becomes self-aware, does it have a soul? Is it “human”? At that point, is the use and ownership of an android slavery?  That question was battled in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Measure of a Man,” where Starfleet claimed to own Data the android and control him like equipment, while the case was made he was sentient and free. The movie(s) Blade Runner also focused on that question. 

I’m not a techie. Computers are great if they do what I need,  but I couldn’t care less about future tech, AI interfaces, androids, or streaming. Anyone who knows any science fiction knows you never trust AI or give it too much power. I like Data, I don’t love Data. C3PO is annoying. I hated Marvin the Paranoid Android. No matter how many times I watch Blade Runner, I think it’s one of the most boring movies ever (I still love The Six Million Dollar Man, but he was a bionic human, not android). So I was really, really surprised that I even picked up the book All Systems Red by Martha Wells, also known as The Murderbot Diaries #1. Not my kind of book. But from the first page, I could not put the book down. I read it while cooking. I read it while my kids were in the tub. I read it while walking. I had to finish it in one day. Thankfully, it’s a short novella, and that’s entirely possible.

Murderbot, as it calls itself (it has no gender. Murderbots are not built for sex; that’s a sexbot), is a Security Unit (SecUnit), a partly organic robot/android construct built to provide security detail for whoever rents or buys it. Of course, mostly what security entails is killing whatever might harm the persons it’s hired to protect, hence the term Murderbot. Murderbot, however, manages to hack its own governor module, releasing itself from control by the company who owns it. 

This starts Murderbot on a soul-searching (or soul-developing?) quest to find out exactly who or what it is now, all while working hard not to let anyone realize it’s free, because an uncontrolled killing machine is a very, very dangerous thing (to quote Kyle Reese from Terminator, “That terminator is out there, it can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with, it doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop… EVER, until you are dead!”).  But Murderbot isn’t fond of killing. He’s fond of soap operas and TV serials (like The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon). All he wants is to be left undisturbed to watch his shows while he tries to figure out the human race. Life never lets him, and he feels obligated (like the heroes in the soaps he watches) to help while trying to solve the mystery of who is trying to kill the people he was hired to protect.

Murderbot is sarcastic, droll, funny, depressed, almost autistic in his stilted approach to emotion and interaction with people. He’s a fast thinker and an opportunist. He says s**t a lot more than Data. He doesn’t want to be human, yet is fascinated by them and can’t stop studying them. And he makes mistakes, just like a human. The innovative – and logical – adaption/hijacking of computer systems has opened my eyes to issues I’ve never given a thought to, such as the power of drones. With all the issues currently happening via ransomware, spying, and breaches, and the mass-market and miniaturization of drones, maybe we should be thinking more along the lines of Murderbot, as our military is also controlled by computers, and nothing but nothing is hack-proof. People mistrusted the NYPD robodog so much they had to send it back.

I had to read the second book Artificial Condition (possibly my favorite, because of ART, Murderbot’s name for the “A*****e Research Transport” ship computer), whipped through the third, Rogue Protocol , flew through the fourth Exit Strategy, (also possibly my favorite), and am now reading the fifth, Network Effect. The sixth and current volume is Fugitive Telemetry, with three more commissioned by the publisher, and a TV version is in the works (please, please don’t mess it up!). All Systems Red has won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, the Alex Award, and the Locus Award. Yes, the stories are simple (good guy must take down bad guy) but the humanity and humanism throughout the series will keep you emotionally invested to the very end. 

Pure enjoyment, with no other agenda. Murderbot is my favorite android ever. 

 

Teen Book Reviews: Six of Crows and One of Us is Lying

Teens: did you know that you can earn community service credit for writing a book review and submitting it to us? Today, we’ll hear from two teens who did just that. Find out more about how to earn community service hours from home at cheshirelibrary.org/teens/.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, reviewed by Matti L.

Six of Crows is one book that’s part of a much larger fictional universe created by Leigh Bardugo, called the Grishaverse. In chronological order, the Grishaverse is made up of the Shadow & Bone trilogy, the Six of Crows duology, the King of Scars duology, and 3 supplemental books that really focus on fairy tales that only occur inside the Grishaverse. Even though the first book I read in the series was Six of Crows, I didn’t have much trouble understanding the characters even though I skipped the Shadow & Bone trilogy. I originally figured that I would be more confused, as if I had skipped the 5 books in Percy Jackson & the Olympians and started with The Lost Hero, but this didn’t happen.

There was a lot of time to meet the characters, learn their backgrounds and initial interactions with each other when they were all on a ship together, traveling to Fjerda. I did need to be patient about understanding the different types of Grisha and the different countries’ relations with each other. I’d say that there are two main reasons that made this book a great book; the first reason is that the plot picks up very quickly, which I enjoy in a book that is 450+ pages long. The book began with a demonstration of a healer abusing her powers and taking control of a ship, and luckily Bardugo revisited that scene fairly early in the book, to show what Kaz Brekker and his crew need to prevent from happening again. Many books don’t have an exciting plot completely set out until around page 150, but Bardugo had her plot taking off by around page 50.

The second reason that I liked this is because it felt like the author laid the story out very similar to a TV show, so it imitated a lot of the techniques to create interest or suspense. For example, a character might go out by themselves at night, and right then is when Bardugo would explain the backstory for the character. Another example is how she never split the group of 6 into more than 3 groups because it can be hard to follow in shows and literature. Also, Leigh never did any form of filler scenes or chapters, where a character would just describe the environment, or go into vivid description of the plan. A lot of this is because Kaz Brekker, the witty main character doesn’t let others know his plans so it always comes as a surprise. This fosters lots of suspense when Kaz makes unexpected decisions all to support his ‘big picture’ plans. In total, I’d say this book was really great because I never lost interest, there was a lot of suspense, and a satisfying ending that left room for interest in the sequel and other books in the Grishaverse.

5 stars.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, reviewed by Hida A.

After a somber year-and-a-half in solitude, there are few things that have excited me. Following the same mundane routing while simultaneously worrying about the lingering public health crisis is no good for the mind. I’ve read my fair share of books over this time, but few are as gripping, as thrilling, as fist-clenching and teeth-grinding, as One of Us is Lying. This, simply put, is one of those books you can’t help but finish in one sitting. If you have the willpower to resist, I commend you for having such an iron-will. But I’m sure there are few people who can actually do so. If you’re looking for a book that excites you, that keeps you rooting for the underdogs, despising the jerks, and predicting the plot like there’s no tomorrow, then look no further: One of Us is Lying is a thriller you can’t miss out on.

From the very beginning, the book captures your attention and proceeds to hold it throughout. It all begins with a seemingly ordinary high school detention. Five students: Simon (The Outcast), Bronwyn (The Brain), Nate (The Criminal), Copper (The Athlete), and Addy (The Beauty), share detention despite their individual protests. Yet, the unthinkable happens–Simon winds up dead. Anaphylaxis. No Epi-Pen. A failed emergency response. From that point forward, the town of Bayview is thrown into chaos as the media swarms and accusations fly. Each student in the room is suspected of murder, of triggering Simon’s allergic reaction by exposing him to his allergen–peanut oil. The police beat down on the “Bayview Four” and try to crack down on the case, but the investigation seems to be leading nowhere. There are so many plot twists and turns as new information is collected, keeping you on the edge of your seat. The fact that Simon prided himself in creating a schoolwide gossip app to expose fellow students made the case even more compelling. Tons of people have a reason to hate Simon. But who had the guts to kill him?

Not only was the plot worthwhile, but the author’s style and perspective were also noteworthy. Chapters alternate between each of the four protagonists, offering the reader great insight into the case as well as any deeper motives. You gain a great new perspective into the plot and realize it’s much more complex than it seems on the surface. That’s what I love about this book, you’re not lulled into a predictable, boring plot. I spent a lot of time thinking Simon’s murder case over and over, and when I reached the end, I was absolutely shocked–in a good way though! The puzzle pieces began to fit perfectly in my head and I realized what a masterpiece One of Us is Lying is! Great read!

The only reason I deducted a star was because it ended so quickly and I wanted to keep reading more and more! Read this carefully–the killer may not be as orthodox as you may initially think…

4 stars.

Darkly Dahl

Roald Dahl is an author of controversy. He’s lauded for being a brilliant writer; he’s shunned because of his 1920’s upbringing and racist and antisemitic writings and comments. His children’s books are considered classics of literature; his children’s books are ignored by some who complain they are too dark for children’s literature.

Too dark? Let’s look at this.

Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother was eaten by a predatory wolf, Cinderella’s stepmother made her into a slave, Hansel and Gretl were abandoned (twice!) by their parents and taken in by a cannibalistic hag; the Little Match Girl freezes to death all alone. Is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Matilda darker than that? Not quite.  

There is some truth to it – in many of Dahl’s stories, parents, if not most adults, are seen as evil, or cruel, or incompetent providers – mean teachers, poor and ever-working parents, buffoonish adults who cannot see the plight of the child (Wonka is most definitely – well, Wonky). There are elements of racial bigotry (the tiny black (yes, they were black in the book) oompa loompas living on grubs; Germans always being fat gluttons, etc). But is this so far from other children’s stories? Not so much. Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events is also darkly humorous, and few are crying foul. Dr. Doolittle bleaches a man’s skin, rather than let a black man marry a white woman. Peter Pan’s stereotypical depiction of Native Americans is downright painful and offensive on many levels. Bigotry and stereotyping is nothing new, only that fact that we now call it what it is. 

One point to remember is that parents, quite frankly, are a pain in the neck to children. They love them, while at the same time resent them for setting limits, saying no, and dragging children kicking and screaming through the process of growing up. For Dahl – and millions of others – who grew up in British boarding schools, at the mercy of bullies they couldn’t escape and teachers who were allowed to whip children, the experience left a more lasting impression (Pink Floyd, anyone?). For those in Britain who grew up in World War II, who as children hid during the Blitz or were shipped out to board with strangers, it lends another level of abandonment and trust issues to children’s literature. There’s a reason behind a lot of the dark – and for British children, it’s a shared cultural memory. Is Fantastic Mr. Fox an allegory for the war? Possibly. 

Another point to consider is children are the hero of their own story. It’s fine if Daddy vanquishes the dragon, but children would much rather be the ones doing it. Tween and Pre-tween children desperately want to be seen as competent, able to impress grown ups with their abilities. Children want to be the hero, and they can’t do that if Mummy and Daddy are with them telling them no – hence the number of orphan stories, or children alone. They can’t rely on the adults with them, or the story won’t work. A story about a child who tried and failed, who gave up and lived with their perceived oppression, isn’t a story a child wants to read about. There’s no role model there, no hero, no inspiration, no one to pretend to be. So of course Matilda has to shine, and the Peach must kill James’s wicked aunts, even if he has to find kinship with a bunch of insects, and even wacky Mr. Wonka can’t miss the good that dwells in Charlie. 

Darkness, shmarkness. The world is a dark place, and childhood a relatively new invention. In too many places, children are still locked in war-torn places, famines, camps, drug violence, and abusive situations. Our lauded fairy tales of yore – right down to Mother Goose and Aesop’s Fables – hark back to far darker times.

 Let them read. If nothing else, darker literature provides the perfect chance to discuss empathy, fantasy vs. reality, and handling tough situations – including some of the tough times we’ve been through in the past year.

The Magic Finger

Danny the Champion of the World

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

The Witches

The BFG

Matilda

James and the Giant Peach

Fantastic Mr. Fox

CPL Staff’s Favorite Reads of 2020

Ask a librarian for some good books, be prepared for a long list! I recently asked our staff members to share some their favorite reads in 2020, and the answers that came back were many and varied. We really do read a lot! Not all the books on this list were published in 2020, (some were older books we just got around to reading in 2020!), but all received a solid thumbs up from a member of our staff:

Children’s Books

Picture Books

Chapter Books

YA Fiction

Adult Fiction

Adult Non-Fiction

 

( * – this book was recommended by more than one staff member)

 

Completed book series to binge-read this winter

There is no more frustrating moment than when you finish a great book to discover it ends in a cliffhanger and the next book in the series won’t come out for another year (or, if you’re an Outlander fan, five years)!  We’re going to be stuck at home quite a bit this winter, so it’s a great time to binge-read a full series beginning to end, no cliffhangers allowed. Here are a few completed book series you can read from start to finish this winter.

The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer

  1. Annihilation
  2. Authority
  3. Acceptance

His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman

  1. The Golden Compass
  2. The Amber Spyglass
  3. The Subtle Knife

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

  1. My Brilliant Friend
  2. The Story of a New Name
  3. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
  4. The Story of the Lost Child

Into the Wilderness series by Sara Donati

  1. Into the Wilderness
  2. Dawn on a Distant Shore
  3. Lake in the Clouds
  4. Fire Along the Sky
  5. Queen of Swords
  6. The Endless Forest

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The Dark Tower series by Stephen King

  1. The Gunslinger
  2. The Drawing of the Three
  3. The Waste Lands
  4. Wizard and Glass
  5. Wolves of Calla
  6. Song of Susannah
  7. The Dark Tower

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan

  1. The Eye of the World
  2. The Great Hunt
  3. The Dragon Reborn
  4. The Shadow Rising
  5. The Fires of Heaven
  6. Lord of Chaos
  7. A Crown of Swords
  8. The Path of Daggers
  9. Winter’s Heart
  10. Crossroads of Twilight
  11. Knife of Dreams
  12. The Gathering Storm
  13. Towers of Midnight
  14. A Memory of Light

Mystery readers may also like these two “girl-detective” series’ we recently wrote about: A Double Dose of Girl Power: Enola Holmes and Flavia de Luce.