The 2021 Hugo Nominees: 'Network Effect' by Martha Wells Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The 2021 Hugo Nominees: 'Network Effect' by Martha Wells Review

Alexander Wallace does some networking.
The Murderbot Diaries is one of today’s most beloved science fiction series; I found out about it through reddit, and many in my local science fiction association are fans too. I only recently got into it. Murderbot, your cynical cyborg whose human components make him have to deal with those annoying things called ‘emotions’ and ‘attachments’ and other frustratingly human things. Wells started off the series with four novellas; Network Effect is the first novel in the setting.

I’ll admit I had issues with the novellas; I thought that Murderbot the character was wonderful, but the novellas were too short to develop most of the other characters and to provide meaningful status quo changes in a properly paced way. Fortunately, Network Effect, with its expanded length in relation to the novellas, does not have those problems. To me, it shows that the series should always have been of this length, for it gives the story and the characters space to breathe.

Murderbot, for those who have read the series, needs no introduction. It brings its characteristic snark and wryness to the way it processes the strange and contradictory things that human beings do on a daily basis. Dedicated readers of the series will be delighted to know that one of the standout characters of the novellas makes a triumphant, if endangered, return; that character then drives much of the plot. There are other characters, who are introduced later on, of artificial natures, that almost steal the show for the book’s final act, but I will let the reader have the pleasure of discovering who all these characters are. This novel even makes some of the human characters memorable in a way that they simply were not in the novellas.

This book also really expands the space opera-cum-cyberpunk universe that Murderbot and its compatriots inhabit. There is much more time given to the locales visited, even if the characters are still in transit. You get more detail on how the two major polities of this universe interact, leaving the whole dinner with a faint aftertaste of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed or Hao Jingfang’s Vagabond (note that this is a very good thing, as both of those novels are phenomenal). You will also get a peek at an aspect of the universe that is not detailed too much in the novellas, and it serves as part of the antagonist’s machinations.

Network Effect takes everything that was good about the Murderbot Diaries and fleshes it out with plenty of meat on the bone. It is, thus far, the best Murderbot book, and one that reinvigorated my interest in the series. Reddit was right; this series is a set of gemstones, and Network Effect is the crown jewel.

The 2021 Hugo Nominees: Reviews
'Finna' by Nino Cipri
'Ring Shout' by P. Djèlí Clark
'Piranesi' by Susanna Clarke
'Upright Women Wanted' by Sarah Gailey
'Come Tumbling Down' by Seanan McGuire
'Riot Baby' by Tochi Onyebuchi
'Black Sun' by Rebecca Roanhorse
'The Empress of Salt and Fortune' by Nghi Vo

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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