Amazing Stories

Interview with Martha Wells, author of The Murderbot Diaries

Sometimes a character reaches out and grabs you and won’t let go because you feel so much for them and their predicament. That was the story with me and Martha Wells’s amazing creation, the Murderbot. Going by the reader buzz and countless favorable reviews, I’m hardly alone in my fascination with this self aware security unit who says of itself: “As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.”  And did I mention Murderbot really wants to just be left alone to binge watch a favorite long running soap opera?

Murderbot first appeared in All Systems Red: the Murderbot Diaries, which received much well deserved recognition, among which were Winner: 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novella, Winner: 2018 Alex Award and Finalist: 2017 Hugo Award for Best Novella.

Artificial Condition: The Murderbot Diaries was released in May of this year, with two more installments to come. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to ask New York Times and USA Today Best Selling author Martha Wells a few questions about this terrific science fiction series.

First, the blurb for Artificial Condition (courtesy of Tor.com): 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 massacre 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… 

.: Veronica for Amazing Stories: What were your major influences when writing the series?
Martha:
Even though most of my work up to this point has been fantasy, I’ve always really loved reading SF too, particularly far-future space opera. One recent influence was Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice trilogy, which I think has been a big influence on stories and books about AI in the last few years.

Another influence was the SF I read while I was growing up in the 70s and 80s.  Like Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover and Don’t Bite the Sun, and John Varley’s early stories.  Also, though their books didn’t usually deal with AI or robots, the SF of Phyllis Gotlieb, like A Judgement of Dragons, about far future aliens coping with human technology, and F.M. Busby’s SF series with Zelde M’tanna and Rissa Kerguelen, which are about a massive rebellion against an oppressive corporate-controlled oligarchy that has taken over Earth and its colony planets and enslaved most of the population.

I’d also read/seen a lot of stories with AI who want to become human, like Data in ‘Star Trek: Next Generation’.  I wanted to write about an AI that wasn’t interested in becoming human at all, and who wasn’t particularly interested in revenge against humans, either.  An AI that just wanted to be left alone.

ASM: Many classic influences there! And I love the idea of an AI who has no desire to take over the world or to save it – just leave Murderbot alone indeed. Which was the most difficult aspect of the Murderbot character to write and why?

M.W.: Action scenes always take a lot of work, but in Murderbot’s case I need to remember its physical abilities, its ability to use drones, as well as the fact that it can think about multiple things and take multiple actions simultaneously.  It takes a lot of thought and re-writing to make sure I’m taking everything into account.

ASM: Do you have a favorite short scene you’d like to share with our readers?
Martha: Here’s quote from Rogue Protocol, the third Murderbot Diaries novella. (Editor: releasing August 7, 2018.)

M.W.: I stepped into the lift and told it to go to the central geo pod. The door slid shut and it whooshed away. I tracked it on the schematic, as it curved past the giant bulbs used for atmosphere dispersal. I considered telling Miki that I was here to collect data on possible alien remnant violations by GrayCris. Nothing I was doing would hurt Abene or the team or GoodNightLander Independent, and I was already lying about so much. But Miki would tell Abene immediately, I knew it would. Not that her team wouldn’t figure out on their own soon that something was sketchy about the terraforming facility.  (Like the decontam room near the passenger lock; you don’t need a clean facility for terraforming but you might if you were scavenging alien bio remnants.)   But if Miki told Abene, she would ask how it knew, and I knew Miki would tell her about me. It wouldn’t lie to a direct question.

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

ASM: Since Murderbot has a favorite show to binge, it’s only fair to ask if *you* have a favorite TV show to binge watch and why?

M.W.: I have a lot of favorites.  I love ‘Elementary’, ‘Doctor Who’, ‘The Expanse’, ‘Star Trek: Discovery’, and ‘The Flash’, and I was a big fan of ‘Stargate: Atlantis’, ‘SG1’, and ‘Farscape’. I also watch a lot of British mysteries on Netflix or PBS, like ‘Luther’, ‘Shetland’,‘Lewis’, and ‘Endeavor’, plus subtitled mysteries from a lot of other countries.

ASM: What’s next for you?

M.W.: Right now I’m working on a novel that will be part of The Murderbot Diaries series.

ASM: And just to remind our readers, the final installment in the Murderbot Diaries is currently listed as Exit Strategy, releasing on October 2, 2018. What’s on your To Be Read List?

M.W.: I’m reading Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse, and next will probably be A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell.

For more about Martha and her books visit http://www.marthawells.com/

USA Today Best Selling Author Veronica Scott usually covers science fiction romance for Amazing Stories, when she isn’t writing SFR novels herself. She was raised on a diet of science fiction classics, however, and may interview SF&F authors in this space from time to time.

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