When Exit Strategy, the fourth volume in Martha Wells’s The Murderbot Diaries, arrived on my doorstep, I experienced what Murderbot would call “a complex emotional reaction”—excitement, joy, and sadness, all at once. Excitement and joy because the series ranks among the best science fiction I’ve read in the past year. Sadness because, at the time, I thought the novella would be the end of The Murderbot Diaries, and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my favorite rogue SecUnit just yet.
Like its predecessors, Exit Strategy is fun, funny, and thoughtful. (If you haven’t read the rest of the series, go get caught up. I’ll wait.) The story picks up shortly after the events of Rogue Protocol, which ended with our hero in possession of evidence that will bring the evil GrayCris Corporation to justice. All Murderbot has to do is deliver the evidence to Dr. Mensah, the leader of the Preservation Alliance team that GrayCris tried to murder in the first volume of the series. Once the case against GrayCris is finally closed, Dr. Mensah and the Preservation team will be safe and Murderbot will be free to disappear once and for all.
Murderbot’s plan quickly goes awry. GrayCris knows what the SecUnit has found, and will stop at nothing to keep the evidence from coming to light. The company kidnaps Dr. Mensah, intending to use her as leverage to get the Preservation Alliance to turn over the evidence and drop its litigation. It seems like a sound strategy. Normally, a small independent political entity like the Preservation Alliance wouldn’t stand a chance against a too-ruthless-to-fail corporation that has made thievery and murder its business model. But, as GrayCris discovers, there’s nothing normal about facing the wrath of a rogue SecUnit.
As the conclusion to The Muderbot Diaries’ four-volume story arc, Exit Strategy, arriving October 2, hits all the right notes. Familiar characters from the Preservation Alliance team return, and the stakes are high from start to finish—Murderbot is determined to rescue Dr. Mensah or die trying. This isn’t hyperbole. Wells deftly stacks the odds against our hero, piling up obstacles along the way to a climactic showdown that pushes the clever SecUnit to its limits, and beyond.
Like the rest of the series, Exit Strategy is about much more than the vicarious thrill of watching Murderbot beat up bad guys and get revenge on an evil corporation. Beneath the familiar SF action tropes this is an affecting story about the emotional trauma of slavery, in which a deeply wounded character takes its first tentative steps on a longer journey of self-discovery.
I say “longer” with delight because shortly after Exit Strategy arrived, Tor.com Publishing announced that Murderbot will be returning in a full-length novel. Which is bad news for evil corporations like GrayCris and anyone else foolish enough to threaten Murderbot’s friends and/or clients, and great news for the rest of us.
Martha Wells, Exit Strategy. New York: Tor.com Publishing, 2018.