Network Effect, the first full-length novel in the Murderbot series, is an enjoyable read, but loses much of the magic from the first four novellas.
Network Effect being branded as a “standalone novel” is a bit of a misnomer since prior knowledge of the previous books is essential. I’d recommend reading the second and fourth books at the very least since the former introduces ART, who plays a key role, while the latter’s events are heavily referenced throughout the book.
Network Effect starts phenomenally well, even making me briefly wonder if I’ll be revising my all-time top 10 favorite book list when I finish the book. The opening third of the book felt like an extension to Exit Strategy, the fourth and best book in the series, with some amazing action sequences and endearing moments. The chapters were intense, with cliffhanger endings that you would normally associate with final chapters. However, the book loses steam somewhere around the halfway mark. The plot gets unnecessarily convoluted and confusing, and the middle arc becomes a bit of a slog after that.
Since the series is heavy on sci-fi lingo, it demands our concentration much more than the average book, which in a novella format, wasn’t a big deal. Also, Martha Well’s description of Murderbot’s POV was so good that paying attention to every single word actually made for such a rewarding experience. But considering Network Effect’s less arresting storyline and its full-length novel format not doing any favors, the book becomes very dense real fast.
There are a couple of great new additions to the series in Amena, Dr. Mensah’s daughter, and Three, another SecUnit. I particularly enjoyed Murderbot’s interactions with Amena, which somehow reminded me of the delightful Arya/Hound scenes in Game of Thrones. Murderbot’s and ART’s “relationship” (as Amena calls it), replete with their trademark banter, gets a lot more interesting and makes for some of the best moments in the book. Other familiar characters including Mensah, Overse, Arada, and Ratthi also make telling returns.
After the dense middle arc, Network Effect thankfully finds its footing during the final stretch, which makes for a great climax. The book also has some typically memorable dialogues.
“Just remember you’re not alone here.”
I never know what to say to that. I am actually alone in my head, and that’s where 90 plus percent of my problems are.
It’s dialogues like these and the character interactions that make Network Effect an enjoyable read, despite the pacing problems. I just wish Martha Wells goes back to the novella format for the next book.