Martha Wells Talks About Murderbot Diaries

By Carl Slaughter: Martha Wells offers insight into the main character of her new Murderbot Diaries series.

Carl Slaughter:  Why the switch from elaborately world built alien fantasy to space opera?

Martha Wells:  I don’t really consider it a switch.  I finished the Books of the Raksura series, though I feel like there’s plenty of room for more stories set in the Three Worlds.  I had an idea for an SF short story, and as I was working on it, I realized it was going to be a 30,000 word novella and it became All Systems Red, the first Murderbot novella. I’ve always read a lot of SF along with fantasy, and the three media tie-ins I’ve written (in Stargate: Atlantis and Star Wars) have been space opera.

CS:  Why an AI story?

MW:  That was the best viewpoint for the story I wanted to tell.

CS:  Why the emphasis on internal dialog instead of character interaction dialog?

Martha Wells. Photo by Igor Kraguljac.

MW:  The character’s entire life is internal, and preserving that life depends on not letting the other characters know about it.  The character also has to hide just how much control it has over its situation.  And most importantly, it doesn’t want to interact with humans.  It prefers the imaginary people in entertainment media to the real humans it’s forced to work for.

CS:  Murderbot seems to have an attitude.  Nothing, not even danger, seems to hold his/hers/its fascination, except the future equivalent Netflix and MTV.  Why is Murderbot so bored, apathetic, snarky and cynical?

MW:  I think it’s a natural byproduct of a character who has been designed to do a job and to be expert at that job, but is also considered a tool rather than a person.  Murderbot has all the responsibility but virtually no authority, and cynicism is the natural response to that.  Also, the fact that Murderbot has to constantly observe its human clients doesn’t leave room for any illusions or optimism about human behavior.

CS:  What’s the inspiration for this kind of dry humor?

CS:  What kind of relationships does Murderbot have with the various team members?

MW:  I think that’s something that people need to read the novella to find out.  I don’t want to spoil the story.

CS:  Does Murderbot have friends?  Does  Murderbot want friends?

MW:  No.  Because of its situation, it can’t trust anyone.

CS:  There’s a detective element to the story.  Is there going to be a story arc unfolding as the series progresses?

MW:  Right now the series is only two novellas, but if I do end up doing more, there will be a story arc.

CS:  Will Murderbot ever visit Earth?  Will Murderbot ever meet its creator?

MW:  No.  Murderbot wouldn’t care about Earth, and would be deeply uninterested in meeting its creator, and would want to avoid anyone involved with developing SecUnits.

CS:  How long will the series continue and how often will the sequels come out?

MW:  At this point I don’t know.  Tor.com has bought a second 30,000 word novella in this series which is due to come out next year.

CS:  Will there be room for other series during the Murderbot series?

MW:  Since these are short novellas, I think I’ll have plenty of time to write other things.  I don’t know if it will be another series, though.

All Systems Red, the first novel in the new Murderbot  Diaries series, comes out from Tor on May 2, 2017.  The sequel, Artificial Condition, is set for 2018.

MARTHA WELLS ONLINE

Pixel Scroll 4/17/17 The Godstalk Dis-Scrolls the Pixels

(1) ASK AGAIN LATER. While quizzing CBS Interactive president Marc DeBevoise, Vulture asked when we’ll see Star Trek: Discovery.

I have to ask you about Star Trek: Discovery. It’s been delayed a bit, and you parted ways with Bryan Fuller. You still haven’t announced a premiere date, or even a launch window. Where is that right now? And how big of deal is that going to be?

It’s going great, I’ve actually been up there [to the set]. It is, you know, phenomenal. It is huge. And we’re very excited about the content, the creators, the actors, all coming together. As you said, we’re not tied to any specific release date. It’ll be there when we’re ready to do it, and when we feel it’s in a great place. We’re not worried about anything here. We’re excited, and we’ll have more specifics as we get closer to what will likely be the release dates.

Is it likely going to be the fall?

We’re not stating.

Which prompted ScienceFiction.com to give its post about this news the title “To Boldy Delay: CBS Still Non-Committal About When ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Will Actually Premiere”.

(2) WORST-CASE SCENARIO. Chuck Tingle has a backup plan if CBS keeps postponing the series:

(3) WHO’S WHO? So, have they picked the next Doctor Who? Bookies are taking no chances.

Now there has been no official announcement but the finger has so strongly been pointing in the direction of Kris Marshall, that Ladbrokes bookies have suspended all bets on the actor getting the gig.

(4) INTO THE FRAY. Kristine Smith is another sff writer who’s become more active in politics since November, as she explains to Book View Café readers:

Like so many other folks, I was driven by the results of the last election to become more involved in the political side of things. I joined/rejoined organizations, donated money, read blogs, subscribed to magazines. But then I thought about it some more, and for the first time decided I wanted to take it one step further. I had followed so many discussions in which it was stated that work at the state and local levels had become even more important, and tried to think of what I could contribute.

One of the organizations that I had rejoined was the Sierra Club. I had always loved the outdoors in general, but in addition I had come to care about the region of northeast Illinois in which I lived — the local state and city parks and open spaces had come to mean a lot to me, and the area as a whole was faced with a number of environmental issues. So I read the Club newsletters, combed through the websites, and decided that I would apply to join the local state lobbying team.

… I was told that it takes three years to build the skills and knowledge necessary to be a good lobbyist. We have to hold our own against the people who do this for a living, who’ve been doing it for years. While I felt good about what I had experienced to that point, the proof is in the legislation that passes, and that process can take years and is at the mercy of the push and pull that occurs with any negotiation. At this point, I think I want to try and stick it out. It’s how things get done.

(5) ONLY A MOTHER. Laura Miller, a reviewer for The New Yorker, loves Jeff VanderMeer’s novel Borne:

…The postapocalyptic imagination is shot through with unacknowledged wish fulfillment.

Not in VanderMeer’s hands, though. VanderMeer belongs to a loose group of literary writers, the New Weird, who bend the old devices of genre fiction to unaccustomed ends. His best—and best-known—work is the Southern Reach Trilogy, three novels published in succession, in 2014. The saga recounts the experiences of several people charged with investigating a stretch of coastal land where something uncanny has occurred. Within the borders of Area X, all human inhabitants have vanished, and the natural world has returned to its pristine state, without a trace of man-made pollutants. Much to the alarm of the authorities, the border of Area X is expanding. In a startling reversal, the world shaped by humanity—what one character describes as “dirty, tired, imperfect, winding down, at war with itself”—has been contaminated and invaded by purity.

Rachel’s city is the opposite of Area X. The river that rings it is a “stew of heavy metals and oil and waste that generated a toxic mist.” Not long ago, a shadowy operation known as the Company set up a biotechnology facility that cranked out freakish new organisms, then set them loose on the city’s streets to see what happened. Mord is the result of one such experiment, a creature manufactured to protect the Company from the increasingly restive locals. Now Mord runs amok, like the dragon in Spenser’s “Faerie Queene.” Many of the survivors have begun worshipping him as a god.

A bear the size of a department store given the power of flight: VanderMeer couldn’t care less about technological plausibility, and “Borne” isn’t, at heart, science fiction. With the toppling of the old forms of order, Rachel, Wick, and the other residents of the city have been plunged into a primordial realm of myth, fable, and fairy tale. Their world is a version of the lost and longed-for territory of fantasy and romance, genres that hark back to an elemental, folkloric past roamed by monsters and infested with ghastly wonders.…

(6) PLANS FOR THIRD GUARDIANS MOVIE. James Gunn will direct and write Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3.

James Gunn is officially set to return to the Guardians Of The Galaxy universe to write and direct the third installment in the Marvel franchise. The director made the announcement today via his Facebook page, ahead of the start of the Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 U.S. press junkets.

Beginning by answering a couple of questions that he knew he was going to get asked during the press tour, Gunn went straight to “the question that comes up perhaps the most is, ‘What’s the deal with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and are you going to direct?’”

“So, after many months of ruminations and discussions, I know the answer. I could save this answer for the first, random interviewer to ask me during the press junket but instead I thought I’d share it with the most important people in the Guardiansverse – you, the fans, who have been so incredibly supportive and enthusiastic over the past five years, it has moved me to tears on a regular basis,” Gunn explained. “So, yes, I’m returning to write and direct Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.”

(7) WHY PUPPIES CAN’T COUNT. Well, I really don’t know why. Especially a doctor!

Dr. Mauser in “Where’s the Beef?” notes the dropoff in Hugo nominating votes since last year.

This, by the way, is not good financial news for WorldCon. 2-3,000 memberships is $100-$150,000 they won’t have in their coffers, and that kind of money buys a LOT of Wooden Asterisks. The Sad Puppies might have been the best thing to happen to WorldCon in a long time, but now that they’ve “Gone and started their own award” (which really, they didn’t) some WorldCon treasurer is probably wishing they were still around.

A supporting membership is 35 Euros, about $37 US. The rest is left as an exercise for the reader.

(8) CAN’T FIND HIM. Meanwhile, on Chuck Tingle’s timeline….

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY MEDIA FIGURES

  • Born April 17, 1997Locus Online premiered. Congratulations and happy anniversary to Mark R. Kelly.

(10) IT’S A MYSTERY. At Galactic Journey, The Traveler is experiencing premieres of the kind of movies that people in the year 3000 will find hard to understand. Heck, The Traveler is right there in 1962 and he doesn’t understand…how some of them got made in the first place….

Those of you deeply in the know are aware that Sid Pink made the Scandinavian answer to Godzilla last year, Reptilicus, and Ib Melchior brought it to the states (where it has had a limited release).  It was, to all accounts, pretty awful.

The unlikely Danish-American team of Sid Pink and Ib Melchior is back, gracing our drive-ins with the latest American International Pictures extravaganza, Journey to the Seventh Planet.  It is a space exploration flick, as one might guess, and (praising damned faintly) it’s not as bad as it could have been.

(11) FLY UNTIED. A matter of “great” concern: “Untangling The Mystery Of Why Shoelaces Come Untied”.

Chris Daily-Diamond, the third co-author, shot the video and did a lot of the legwork (pun intended) on the experiments.

Based on the video, and the other tests they did on shoelace knots, the team says two things happen when a lace comes untied. First, the impact of the shoe on the ground loosens the knot. With the knot loosened, the whipping of the free ends of the laces — as the leg swings back and forth — makes the laces slip.

As the foot hits the ground and the laces swing repeatedly, the knot loses integrity until, in a matter of seconds, it fails altogether.

The researchers also have some advice to keep shoes from coming untied. It’s all in how you tie the knot.

Chip Hitchcock opines, “This is just the sort of work Proxmire would have had a field day with — ignoring that the researchers think that learning about macro knots will help with the study of molecular knots.”

(12) BACK INTO THE TREES. Why is everybody trying to make robots walk? A crop-monitoring robot will swing like Tarzan: see the video here.

The prototype robot, called Tarzan, will gather information about the plants and send it to the farmer.

The team plan to test Tarzan on a soybean farm later this year and believe it will be ready for release in three years.

(13) RED PENCIL. An NPR editor is ready to surgically remove a hackneyed phrase from the news writing lexicon – “It Sounds Like Science Fiction But… It’s A Cliché”.

In the 1994 film Timecop, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a police officer who uses a time machine to catch criminals. Time-traveling law enforcement may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but if one researcher has her way, it will soon become science fact.

See what I did there? That paragraph encapsulates the most tired cliché of science writing: “It sounds like science fiction but it’s true. ”

Sounds like Sci-Fi gets used everywhere, from CNN, to The New York Times, to yes … here on NPR. And once you see it, you can’t unsee it. The best examples usually include a reference to a mid-1990s sci-fi film, just to make crystal-clear what science fiction this particular science fact refers to.

In 15 years of reporting, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve run into “Sounds like Sci-Fi.” And last year, I became a science editor here at NPR. NPR’s Ethics Handbook carries a warning on cliches:

“Reporters and news writers are under deadline pressure, and these are the phrases that spring to mind. The editor’s job is not to let them get away with it.”

(14) ROBOT CENSUS. Rise of the robots: a summary.

The world’s robot population is expanding quickly – sales of industrial robots are growing by around 13 per cent a year, meaning the robot “birth rate” is almost doubling every five years.

There has long been a trend to “offshore” manufacturing to cheaper workers in emerging markets. Now, robots are part of the “reshoring” trend that is returning production to established centres.

They do more and more things – they’re lettuce-pickers, bartenders, hospital porters.

But they’re still not doing as much as we’d once expected.

In 1962 – a year after the Unimate was introduced – the American cartoon The Jetsons imagined Rosie, a robot maid doing all the household chores. That prospect still seems remote.

(16) WHAT IS THE LAW? Eleanor Arnason introduces us to “The Law of Jante”.

From The Guardian:

The Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose wrote about it more than 80 years ago, setting down the regulating mechanisms that operate on Scandinavians from below, in what he called the Law of Jante. According to Sandemose, the 10 commandments that regulate our social behavior are:

1. You mustn’t think you’re special.

2. You mustn’t think you’re as good as we are.

3. You mustn’t think you’re smarter than us.

4. You mustn’t imagine you’re any better than us.

5. You mustn’t think you know more than we do.

6. You mustn’t think you’re more important than us.

7. You mustn’t think you’re good at anything.

8. You mustn’t laugh at us.

9. You mustn’t think anyone cares about you.

10. You mustn’t think you can teach us anything.

I think these ten commandments are a bit harsh. But a lot of them sound familiar to me as a Minnesotan.

(17) DOCTOR HUMOR. While visiting Martha Wells’ Tumblr, I found she had a series of GIFs with a really amusing anecdote about a Doctor Who actor.

(18) DELANY. Andrew Porter sends along a link to the livestreamed video of Samuel R. Delany’s 75th birthday celebration at the NYRSF Readings with a note, “In wide shots, you can see Moshe Feder sitting at upper center; I am in yellow shirt, upper right.”

(19) SELF-IMPROVEMENT BESTSELLER WRITES MANGA. Time to clean up my act!

Yesterday, the folks at Ten Speed Press took to Instagram to announce that Marie Kondo will be releasing her next book at the end of June. Her 2011 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, has gained near-biblical significance for those of us whose domestic interiors (and resultant psychological states) resembles natural disaster sites. “I believe this must be the first time that a book from Japan has sold so well except manga and fiction,” the editor-in-chief of Unmark Publishing, Kondo’s original Japanese publishing house, once commented of that original book’s stratosphere-shattering success. Well, looks like Kondo’s trying to capitalize on that territory, too. Her next book is a manga.

Marie Kondo’s new book comes out June 27, 2017. It’s available for preorder here.

(20) FREE SAMPLES. Todd Allen’s Kickstarter appeal to publish his collection Legal Termination of a Warlock and Other Tales needs another $424 to fund with 23 days to go.

Mister Lewis calls himself a “physics consultant,” but what he really consultants on are problems that defy the laws of physics.  Problems like whether there’s a supernatural reason all those musicians are dying or how to build an ironclad legal case for firing a warlock from your company.  And like any consultant, he frequently finds himself doing unpleasant work for unpleasant people.

It’s a genre bender filtering urban fantasy, horror and detective fiction through a sardonic worldview.  The influences are The Night Stalker by way of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Art Buchwald.

I’ve already written a couple stories about Mister Lewis and I’d like to try something a little different as I move forward with the series.  I’d like to write a story each month – a novelette or longish short story.  I’m calling it novelettes, but if you wanted to call a monthly e-zine, I wouldn’t argue with you.  The idea is to have a new story show up each month like an issue of Batman… except without the serials and annoying crossover events.

What will these read like?  Lucky you, I’ve already written two adventures and they’re online for free, so you can make an informed decision:

(21) CELEBRITY EASTER EGGS. A lot of sff and other amusing references here:

On this episode, see how we took the faces from your favorite TV show characters and superstars and turned them into an Easter Egg!

 

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Andrew Porter, Cat Eldridge, and Jeff VanderMeer for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew.]

Martha Wells’ New Series

By Carl Slaughter: All Systems Red, the first novel in the new Murderbot  Diaries series by Martha Wells, comes out from Tor on May 2, 2017.  The sequel, Artificial Condition, is set for 2018.

A murderous android discovers itself in All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that interrogates the roots of consciousness through Artificial Intelligence.

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.

Read an excerpt from All Systems Red.