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Rogue Protocol

August 14, 2018

I’ve known this morning was coming for a long time, much like you should know that the death at the end of Martha Wells’ third “murderbot” novella, Rogue Protocol, is going to hurt.

IMG_1854Last night we had a combined birthday party for one of my best friends, one I’ve known most of my life, and my grown-up daughter, who can now finally rent a car. We’ve had their parties together before, out on our deck in the evening, with our two families and a few other friends we’ve known for decades. This year the sun was setting, the deck was weathered gray and overgrown with green, and the cicadas were singing. We ate watermelon and guacamole and deviled eggs and birthday cake, and then we had to bring in all the solo cups and beer bottles and cake plates and move the outdoor furniture into the garage in the dark before all four of us went to sleep under one roof.

IMG_1860This morning Ron and Walker got up and went to work, and Eleanor finished packing up all her stuff and put it in the car and set off for North Carolina. The cats and I are inside the house while the guy I’ve hired to take apart the old deck and build us a new one is wreaking noisy havoc outside. I’ve lived in this house with this deck for almost thirty years and it’s strange to see it coming apart on the morning Eleanor is heading for home. I feel a little bruised, somehow, like I ran into something solid that I hadn’t seen was there.

It’s the juxtaposition of our lovely evening with the sad and sunny morning that makes it all so difficult. If Rogue Protocol were less good and you cared about the characters less, the death at the end would be less hard. And yet here we are.

The book begins soon after the last one ended, with the “murderbot” on another transport ship heading for a station where she hopes to get information that will help Dr. Mensah, her “owner” and sort-of friend. There are other passengers on this transport, and since the murderbot has listed itself as a “security consultant,” the transport has been calling it to settle disputes and it has been responding–about which circumstance it says “I don’t know why, either. Maybe because it was what I was constructed to do and it must be written into the DNA that controls my organic parts. (There needs to be an error code that means ‘I received your request but decided to ignore you.’)”

We know why the murderbot has been responding, despite its protests that it doesn’t care about these humans: “A SecUnit’s job is to protect its clients from anything that wants to kill or hurt them, and to gently discourage them from killing, maiming, etc., each other. The reason why they were trying to kill, main, etc. each other wasn’t the SecUnit’s problem, it was for the humans’ supervisor to deal with. (Or to willfully ignore until the whole project devolved into a giant clusterfuck and your SecUnit prayed for the sweet relief of a massive accidental explosive decompression, not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.)”

The murderbot continues to react more and more like a human would, until it meets a little robot called Miki whose friends are the humans on its team. Murderbot scoffs at the very idea that robots and humans can be friends until it becomes clear that it believes such a state of affairs is too good to be true. Miki’s actions and her communications with her friend Don Abene show that it is true, however.

There is excitement as the murderbot tries to protect Miki and Don Abene and also get access to the information that it believes will help Dr. Mensah. There are a couple of almost-comic moments where the murderbot, who has human parts, and the robot Miki, who has none, experience apprehension and fear. At one point Miki tells the murderbot to be careful because “this place makes our skin shiver.” Later, when a combat bot is trying to fix its location, the murderbot tries to reassure the robot:
“[Objective: We will tear you apart.]
I blocked the channel. I breathed out, slowly, so as not to draw attention from the humans. Miki sent me a glyph of distress. I said It’s okay, which was a complete lie. I reminded myself a combat bot wasn’t a human, it wasn’t a villain from one of my shows. It was a bot, and it wasn’t threatening us.
It was just telling us what it was going to do.”

The jokes in this one, having been set up in the first two novellas, come faster and seem funnier. I particularly enjoy the part where the murderbot says “I do make mistakes (I keep a running tally in a special file) and it looked like I had made a big one.” Some of the jokes are funny because they’re based on serious turns of events in the narrative, like when Miki’s hand is sheared off by a blast from a weapon and the robot says “’I am at eighty-six percent functional capacity.’ It held up its arm stump. ‘It’s only a flesh wound,’” Abene says “Miki, your poor hand” and then the murderbot thinks “oh good, another Abene/Miki lovefest.”

Especially after such moments, when the murderbot is obviously struggling to sound like its usual self-protecting cynical self, it protests too much. When Miki says “that’s not good” about a turn of events, the murderbot thinks “That is just annoying. That contributed nothing to the conversation and was just a pointless vocalization to make the humans comfortable.”

There is a death at the end of this book, and after readers have felt the full weight of it, the murderbot comments “I hate caring about stuff. But apparently once you start, you can’t just stop.”

Isn’t that the truth. I guess that’s what I’ve just run into, once again.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 14, 2018 6:13 pm

    Caring about stuff is SO hard! I’m sorry about your old deck but I hope that the new one brings you many many good memories.

    • August 14, 2018 8:01 pm

      Yeah, that’s the trick, to look ahead to when the kids will come back to visit.

  2. Pita Pratt permalink
    August 15, 2018 9:56 am

    Do say that y’all are replacing the deck?
    Not much into robot stuff so I’ll pass on this one.

    • August 15, 2018 10:10 am

      We are replacing the deck. It will soon be more splendid than ever, although there will be a few changes, like that we’re not replacing the benches we used to use to measure the snowfall each winter (if snow piled up to reach the bottom of the benches, it was kind of exciting).

  3. August 22, 2018 11:47 am

    HUG. I hope that your new deck brings you joy (I’m sure it will), but change and endings are always really hard. And ugh, I am still so sad about the death in Rogue Protocol. I need the fourth book to come out stat — how is October so far away??

    • August 22, 2018 1:39 pm

      I think now that what I didn’t say explicitly and should have is that the new deck won’t have all the memories of the old one, from when our family was bigger.
      But change keeps happening, and the alternative is death.
      Of course I’m really looking forward to the fourth book, too.


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