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When novellas do the plot better justice

Time to close the chapter on The Murderbot Diaries. Take a break. You don’t want to read multiple books from the same series without a break in between.

You eventually burn out and your interest in the story fades, although that has yet to happen. I think we have two more Murderbot books. But for now, I want to explore other stories. I am reading three different books simultaneously, which I never do.

I got three different recommendations and they all piqued my interest. Also, I could not wait to dip back into fantasy after swimming in Sci-Fi waters for so many months. Anyway, back to Network Effect. One review compared the book to the live-action adaptation you get at the end of a long-running TV series.

The description is accurate because the first four Murderbot books are brief novellas with relatively straightforward plots. Network Effect is the first full-length novel in the series, which explains its broad scope. At 350 pages, the book is still short. Nonetheless, if you read the first four novellas in quick succession, book five may come as a jarring shock.

I have criticized the series for its length on numerous occasions. 150-page stories don’t make sense to me. So naturally, I could not wait to dive into Network Effect, if only to see the difference an extra 200 pages would make.

Surprisingly, my opinion remains largely unchanged; it has the same strengths and weaknesses as the novellas preceding it. If anything, I think the larger page count hurts the story.

I won’t explain the plot because it ruins the surprise. If you need some context, Murderbot is working with the Preservation Aux team, but as an independent contractor as opposed to an enslaved SecUnit. Things take a turn when a catastrophe brings an old acquaintance back into Murderbot’s life.

If you read the previous books, you have every reason to respond to that brief synopsis with excitement because the acquaintance in question is awesome. Murderbot is a joy to watch because he can’t stand human interactions and, unfortunately, his new community
is populated by the nicest human beings you will ever meet.

They are determined to treat him with kindness and empathy, which creates social scenarios he would rather avoid. The author shines more of a spotlight than usual on the human characters. But again, the non-humans are the stars. We get three of them this time around (technically four) and their interactions are humorous and engaging.

I can’t say the same for the human cast. I could not bring myself to care about any of them, which lowered the stakes because Martha Wells could have killed them all and it wouldn’t have mattered to me. The antagonists are equally problematic. Actually, the plot as a whole is severely lacking.

Network Effect is worth reading because watching Murderbot tackle and overcome new obstacles is highly entertaining. However, I was not invested in his mission or the overall objective. In fact, by the halfway mark, I felt like I was done with the story. I had watched Murderbot have a mental breakdown, dismantle alien enemies, and navigate awkward conversations for 175 pages, and I was satisfied.

So, I guess I was wrong. The Murderbot books are best served by a short length. Stretching them out dilutes their entertainment value. By the time we got to the third act, I had checked out. Network Effect is not a bad book; it just isn’t as concise as its predecessors.


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