Short works

Books : reviews

Martha Wells.
The Element of Fire.

Where high-tech wizardry meets fairy magic and a kingdom hangs in the balance…

The country of Ile-Rein lies in peril: Young king Roland sits uneasy upon the throne, surrounded by nobles who would use human sorcery to hasten his downfall. The king’s bastard sister, the Fayre Queen of Air and Darkness, is hell bent on revenge against him and all he stands for.

The only power to save the land rests with the Dowager Queen Ravenna…and Thomas Boniface, Captain of the Queen’s Guard – a rakish cavalier who would cross swords with the Devil if it would save his Queen.

But will one man’s steel be enough to counter all the world’s magic?

Martha Wells.
The Death of the Necromancer.
Avon. 1998

Martha Wells.
The Wizard Hunters.
EOS. 2003

Once a fertile and prosperous land, Ile-Rien is under attack by the Gardier, a mysterious army whose storm-black airships appear from nowhere to strike without warning. Every weapon in the arsenal of Ile-Rien’s revered wizards has proven useless.

And now the last hope of a magical realm under siege rests within a child’s plaything.

Martha Wells.
The Ships of Air.
EOS. 2004

Ile-Rien has fallen to a ruthless army of sorcerers intent on conquering all civilizatizn. Now a small band of heroes aboard a majestic rescue ship must undertake an epic journey to preserve the remnants of a once-great land and drive the heartless invaders back to the shadows.

But there are other evils—far more terrifying than the Gardier foe—alive in this world in chaos. And they’re closer than a whisper.

Martha Wells.
The Gate of Gods.
EOS. 2005

Tremaine Valiarde and a small brave band of heroes ventured into a wondrous new realm on their desperate mission to save Ile-Rien from the conquering Gardier. Now, as a relentless enemy creates chaos and destruction—with the fate of the magical city of Lodun hanging in the balance—the last hope of a land besieged may rest on the far side of a secret portal.

But the doorway leads to a mysterious ruin hidden behind the awesome Gate of Gods—and to perils that dwarf anything Tremaine and her allies could have possibly imagined…

Martha Wells.
All Systems Red.
Tor. 2017

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 28 January 2018

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ’droid—a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Planetary survey missions must be accompanied by a Security Unit: a protection robot supplied by the lowest bidder. The current survey team don’t know that their SecUnit calls itself ‘Murderbot’, and has overridden its governor module. But when mysterious things start happening, they are going to be very glad it has.

This is a zippy little novella, just 150pp of snark as we listen to Murderbot narrate its story, and discover more about its background. There’s not time for a lot of character development other than the first person narrator, but we get an interesting world, an engaging protagonist, and the set-up for a lot more action and robot-soul-searching.

This makes a good contrast with that other recent ‘robot learning to live in a human world’ tale, A Closed and Common Orbit. They are quite different in feel, but both are thought-provoking.

Martha Wells.
Artificial Condition.
Tor. 2018

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 1 July 2018

“As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.”

It has a dark past – one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself Murderbot. But it has only vague memories of the massaacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more.

Teaming up with a research transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the A stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue.

What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…

Murderbot has decided to investigate the planet where it originally went rogue and earned its name. This means avoiding being discovered by humans who would be hostile to its very existence. So it hitches a ride with an unmanned research ship; this is not necessarily a safe option, as the ship’s AI is somewhat curious, and can’t be completely distracted by Murderbot’s collection of space opera shows. And then when Murderbot reaches the planet, it decides a good cover is to sign on as a security consultant for a group of naive scientists who may have just made a big discovery. What could possible go wrong…?

This is another great little novella narrated by the snarky Murderbot, as it discovers things about its past, and itself, that will have a big impact on its future.

Martha Wells.
Rogue Protocol.
Tor. 2018

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 4 November 2018

Who knew being a heartless killing machine would present so many moral dilemmas?

Sci-fi’s favorite antisocial AI is back on a mission. The case against the too-big-to-fail GrayCris Corporation is floundering, and more importantly, authorities are beginning to ask more questions about where Dr. Mensah’s SecUnit is.

And Murderbot would rather those questions went away. For good.

Murderbot has noticed a set of unusual events that might just give it a clue in its GreyCris Corporation investigations. So it sets off to the edge of known space to find out just what has been going on. There it finds itself once again acting as protector for a group of humans. This time it might be impossible to complete its own mission and save the humans: which one will it sacrifice?

Another great novella. The plot thickens, and the snark continues. But it’s getting harder to believe some of Murderbot’s self-professed lack of care.

Martha Wells.
Exit Strategy.
Tor. 2018

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 31 December 2018

Murderbot wasn’t programmed to care. So its decision to help the only human who ever showed it respect must be a system glitch, right?

Having traveled the Width of the galaxy to unearth details of its own murderous transgressions, as well as those of the GrayCris Corporation, Murderbot is heading home to help Dr. Mensah—its former owner (protector? friend?)—submit evidence that could prevent GrayCris from destroying more colonists in its never-ending quest for profit.

But who’s going to believe a SecUnit gone rogue?

And what will become of it when it’s caught?

Murderbot finally has the evidence that will take down GrayCris Corp. But Dr Mensah is being held hostage by the Corporation. Can Murderbot deliver the evidence and save Dr Mensah? And why does Murderbot even want to do this?

This final novella in the Murderbot series zips smartly along like all the others, and ties back neatly with the characters from the first instalment. Murderbot continues to be snarky, and continues to run rings around tech defences. This being the last instalment, there are several times where it is not at all clear how things are going to pan out. There is a satisfactory conclusion, but I do want to see more Murderbot tales, and maybe in meatier novel for next?

Martha Wells.
The Cloud Roads.
Night Shade Books. 2011