Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

At the end of Rogue Protocol, the SecUnit otherwise known as Murderbot had incontrovertible evidence that its corporate nemesis GrayCris had been engaging in illegal activities involving alien technology. It had little faith that exposure of the activities had caused the corporation serious harm, but GrayCris’ reactions suggested that the company might take a different view.

Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

The corporation was holding Dr Mensah, the human who had given SecUnit its freedom, thus causing all sorts of feelings that SecUnit didn’t want to think about at all, and would likely soon do more than just keeping her as a hostage. Mensah and her team theoretically had the resources of a bond company as well as the diplomatic heft of Preservation Station at their call to free her. In practice, GrayCris was outbidding Mensah’s claim on the bond company and obstructing her team’s efforts to hold them to their contract. Diplomacy’s stern words did little to deter a corporation whose back was up against the wall, and who cared little for legalities in the first place. Enter SecUnit, hoping to secure a survivable exit for Mensah, her team, and itself.

Reading Exit Strategy well out of order in the series (it’s the fourth novella, and I’ve read them 2-5-6-1-3-4) did not diminish my enjoyment at all. I probably would have enjoyed Exit Strategy even more if I had experienced it as the culmination of four novellas instead of knowing that future SecUnit manages to go from frying pan to fire both on an outward mission and closer to home on Preservation Station. Even knowing that SecUnit eventually succeeds in its mission — not least because this isn’t the kind of series that kills major sympathetic characters, not yet anyway — the action is clever and tense.

In addition to the well-constructed rescue story, Wells also shows SecUnit coming to terms with itself. It has had some changes made to make it appear more human, and it doesn’t like that much at all. On the other hand, if nearly every scan and a large number of basic humans could identify it as a Security Unit that had gone rogue, then its life would probably be considerably shortened. It wants to be itself, but it is willing to trade some of that in exchange for not being reduced to spare parts. SecUnit’s bargain for living in a society is starker than most people’s, and that would probably give it anxiety if there weren’t so many other more immediate reasons to be anxious.

The deadpan humor and dry observations make this a story that’s funny page by page; the humanity of someone learning to be a person, a good person, give it grace.

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