REVIEW: System Collapse by Martha Wells

Last Updated on March 23, 2024

The seventh instalment in The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, System Collapse follows on closely from Network Effect (book five, and previously the series’ only novel-length story) with another hugely entertaining blast of rogue SecUnit action, snark and uncomfortable emotions. After the events of Network Effect (we’ll leave it at that for anyone who hasn’t read it), Murderbot is spending its time safeguarding colonists from ruthless Barish-Estranza corporates and their shady ‘contract’ offers. The problem is, Murderbot’s recent traumatic experiences have resulted in a noticeable drop in performance, which isn’t ideal…especially considering Barish-Estranza have their own SecUnits and aren’t afraid to play dirty.

Cover of System CollapseThere’s a lot to keep track of here, with various new characters alongside quite a few jumps around the series’ timeline (a reread of Network Effect, or at least the last few chapters, is definitely advised), but overall System Collapse feels rich and rewarding, offering real development for both Murderbot as a character and The Murderbot Diaries as a whole. A consistent theme throughout the series involves Murderbot – no longer a slave to its corporate ‘owners’ – wrestling with the complexities of free will. System Collapse continues with this, but also digs into the complexities involved in coming to terms with and learning to cope with trauma.

Seven books in, it would be easy for Wells to simply give readers more of the same – more action, more snark, more Sanctuary Moon, more Murderbot-staring-at-a-wall – in another straightforward, standalone adventure. Instead, rather than taking the easy option Wells has opted for a slightly different feel to most of the other stories. This is a little slower and a little less action-packed, a more introspective story that shows Murderbot at its most vulnerable – physically and emotionally – and forces it into a situation that needs more than strength and speed to resolve. Don’t worry, Murderbot still does its fair share of fighting, but it has to learn to deal with people and events in different ways too, uncomfortable though that may be.

Billed as a ‘full-length novel’, really this is more of a short novel, falling in between the usual novella length and the heft of Network Effect, and somehow it feels like the best of both worlds. Despite the relative lack of action it feels every bit as tight and snappy as the novellas, just with a little more room to breathe. All told it’s another excellent story in its own right, providing yet more evidence that Murderbot is – despite being an artificially-created killing machine – one of the most relatable (not to mention entertainingly badass) characters in modern science fiction. The Murderbot Diaries might not be overtly grimdark, but it’s a series that’s likely to have a lot of crossover appeal, and System Collapse only reinforces the fact that Murderbot really should be on every SF fan’s reading list.

A version of this review first appeared on trackofwords.com

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Michael Dodd

Michael Dodd

Michael spends his days writing software user documentation, and in his free time runs Track of Words where he keeps himself busy writing reviews and author interviews. If he could spend every hour reading or writing about books, he absolutely would. You can find him at www.trackofwords.com or on Twitter @track_of_words - come along and say hi!