Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

By reading the Murderbot series all out of order (2-5-6-1-3, with 4 lined up to read soon) I’ve not experienced its coming to terms with its freedom or its engagement with other non-humans as a story of continuous progress. On the other hand, knowing a bit more about where Murderbot is headed — including its later preference for SecUnit instead of Murderbot as a moniker — I look at its earlier interactions with a view toward where it is going.

Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

The main story of Rogue Protocol concerns SecUnit accompanying a human group to an abandoned space station that had been part of a terraforming effort. The team is meant to assess the station before a new company takes over from SecUnit’s corporate nemesis, GrayCris. SecUnit suspects that GrayCris had been engaging in illegal activities before the station was abandoned, and that there are still some traces of records in the station’s remaining low-level robotic denizens. Initially, the humans are unaware that SecUnit is on board the ship taking them to the station, and then on the station itself. The party, however, is accompanied by what SecUnit disdainfully thinks of as a “pet robot,” and its presence compels SecUnit to partially reveal itself. The other robot is known as Mikki, and its interactions with humans are far from what SecUnit has been used to up to this point in its existence. “Or Mikki 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.” (p. 49)

What follows is something of a meditation on trust, as the situation is not entirely what it seems, and neither are all of the humans. Things get worse when the station turns out to have Combat Units on board, which were definitely not expected. SecUnit has not been fully honest with the humans, and yet it needs their cooperation just as they need its abilities. The relationship between Mikki and the humans appears to be something like genuine friendship, an approach that flummoxes SecUnit with its warmth and apparent affection. SecUnit’s deception calls for Mikki to be economical with the truth to the humans, which is probably a new behavior for both Mikki and its humans. As the story develops, some of them see through it but do not directly expose what the robots have been up to.

The action is fast and furious, with reversals, unexpected dangers, and connections to the overarching Murderbot story, along with the droll humor that is a trademark of the series. The third novella in the series is not the best place to start. Even though the story would be a good adventure if it was the first one someone read, the larger questions and concerns are clearer if it’s not a reader’s starting point.

+++

Doreen’s review is here. In contrast to Doreen, I bought a print version of Rogue Protocol precisely because I like it as a pretty object. I’m even considering getting paper copies of All Systems Red and Artificial Condition, which I have in electronic form, because apparently I’m the kind of collector that she mentioned. (But the books are very satisfying to see and hold!)

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