Martha Wells’ 2021 Fugitive Telemetry is the sixth volume in the Murderbot series.
Preservation Station has a very low murder rate. The corpse in Trans Lateral Bypass corridor is an anomaly — and also a mystery. Murderbot is informally consulted and discovers that the murdered human has been dead for about four hours, and … and that it (Murderbot) is going to get dragged into the investigation.
Preservation Station recognizes the right to self-determination for people, although in the case of artificial persons, that recognition takes a very paternalistic form. In the specific case of entities like Murderbot, a healthy dose of caution is added. SecUnits are very good at doling out violence. Who can predict under what conditions a self-hacked SecUnit will decide to start killing squishy humans? Could Murderbot be the murderer?
Somewhat to the disappointment of Senior Indah of Preservation Station Security, Murderbot didn’t kill the dead man. (It would have been such a fast solve!) Even worse: not only does Security have no idea who the killer might be, it’s not sure who the dead man is or how he got to Trans Lateral Bypass corridor.
Murderbot does have skills and abilities that would help the investigation, Indah accepts its assistance just as one would expect: grudgingly. Now all Murderbot need do is invest unreasonable levels of effort painstakingly tracking down potential clues in a manner humans probably could not manage and survive the consequences of working out whodunnit.
It’s nice to see that Murderbot is capable of making mistakes. Also that the Corporate Rim is willing to put in the extra effort needed to be really comprehensive assholes. It’s a good thing for everyone adjacent to the Rim that the companies that run it do their best to undermine any sort of central authority, lest it be used on the corporations. Corporations squabble; the fragmentation means that the Rim is less of a threat to its neighbours that it might otherwise be. .
There are, broadly speaking two sorts of mysteries (or two poles on the mystery spectrum):
A: the sort where society is basically good and just, and the point of the story is to restore matters to their proper state, and
B: the sort where beneficent normalcy cannot be restored because society is by its very nature cruel, oppressive, and predatory. The story will underline these dismal facts.
Indah no doubt believes she is the protagonist of the first sort of story. She’s trying hard to turn this case into that sort of story. Murderbot suspects that they find themselves in the second sort of story, having had too many unpleasant encounters with the Corporate Rim. Also having dealt with distrust and condescension from those who should be its friends. Evidence suggests that while the truth is somewhere between the two extremes, it’s closer to the second than the first.
One might therefore expect a rather grim narrative. Not so! Murderbot may be bitter and pessimistic but Murderbot is also, as much as it might try to deny it, essentially kind and disinclined to turn a blind ocular unit to those in need. Murderbot is also very, very funny.