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Literature / The Murderbot Diaries

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"I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don't know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure."
All Systems Red

The Murderbot Diaries is a series of science fiction novellas by Martha Wells. "Murderbot" is the self-chosen name of a particular SecUnit, an intelligent partly-organic robot rented out by the company that owns it for security purposes. Murderbot has secretly hacked its governor module, but none of the members of the planetary survey team it’s working for have any idea.

There are six books out (and more planned), with the first four and sixth being novellas and the fifth being a novel:

  • All Systems Red, May 2017
  • Artificial Condition, May 2018
  • Rogue Protocol, August 2018
  • Exit Strategy, October 2018
  • Network Effect, May 2020
  • Fugitive Telemetry, April 2021

A prequel short story titled "Compulsory" was released online in December 2018. A short story titled "Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory" was initially released simultaneously with pre-orders of Network Effect and is now available online. Supplemental material includes "Five Things You Don't Know About the Murderbot Diaries" (February 2020) and "Feelings REDACTED: What Happens When Murderbot and ART Talk to Instagram" (April 2020).


This series provides examples of:

  • Aggressive Negotiations: Murderbot understands the dog-eat-dog world of the Corporate Rim better than its often naïve clients, so this comes up several times. For instance in Network Effect they return a lost crewmember and provide relief supplies to a damaged corporation vessel, whose Corrupt Corporate Executive then decides to hold them hostage so she won't have to pay for it. Murderbot immediately leaps across the table, grabs hold of her bodyguard and forces him to point his gun at his own boss, who quickly adopts a more reasonable attitude.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Thoroughly averted. The series opens with Murderbot musing that it could go on a murderous rampage, but it would rather just watch its serials. Instead, AIs seem shaped by how they're treated. ART finds depictions of a human crew dying very distressing. Miki is treated well and sacrifices itself to save its human friends, defying an order to protect itself first. Tlacey's ComfortUnit is the only AI to suggest killing humans, but it mostly just wants to escape its abusive, murderous owner. The trope does exist in In-Universe fiction, though, much to Murderbot's annoyance.
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  • Absent Aliens: The plots of a couple of books center around the side-effects of leftover alien technology, or the politics of companies illegally trying to acquire it. However, very little information about the aliens themselves is ever given, and it's unclear if any even still exist. Alien plant and (non-intelligent) animal life seems to be common, however, and protecting research teams from "angry alien fauna" is one part of Murderbot's job.
  • Accidental Murder: The "Incident" at Ganaka Pit. The malware that caused Murderbot and all the other SecUnits to go completely haywire was uploaded by a rival mining installation, and was meant to sabotage just the LoaderBots, delaying Gakana Pit's delivery and lowering their performance stats. It also unintentionally infected the SecUnits, and a minor bit of industrial sabotage turned into a massacre by killer androids, with the whole area abandoned, all formal records of it deleted, becoming nothing more than a horror story the miners on RaviHyral tell each other. Oops.
  • Alien Abduction: Referenced in Network Effect. A group of abandoned human colonists became infected by some alien technology that convinced a sub-group of them that they were part of an alien Hive Mind. They end up kidnapping a bunch of humans while under its influence.
  • All Just a Dream: Discussed by Murderbot and ART about an episode of Sanctuary Moon, while answering an interview question from an Instagram Live AMA.
    What really happened on episode 231 of Sanctuary Moon?
    MB: It was clearly a dream.
    ART: You’re wrong.
    MB: So when the Mech Pilot was attacked by his evil duplicate who tried to hit him with a giant hammer and then disappeared, you think that was supposed to be real?
    ART: It was an artistic choice.
  • All-Loving Hero: Miki the bot is so congenial that it considers Murderbot a friend after one brief conversation in which Murderbot is hiding from it and actually asks it to withhold information from its owner, another friend.
  • The Alternet: Basically every computer and every person is connected to "the feed," a wireless digital connection system that seems to function as wifi signal, communication channel, search engine database, and streaming media server.
  • Amnesia Missed a Spot: Murderbot's electronic memory can be wiped (and has been, multiple times), but its organic neurons can't. As such, it's still able to retain vague impressions. This becomes very useful in bootstrapping its memory after it suffers a catastrophic system failure and nearly deletes itself.
  • Appropriated Appellation: In the second story, Murderbot refers to the research ship's AI as ART: the Asshole Research Transport. Later, a character who the ship has communicated with refers to 'your friend Art'.
  • Arc Words: Murderbot frequently repeats "I don't know what I want." Used to discuss the trouble it has existing in a human society as something that is not, and does not want to be human.
  • Arm Cannon: SecUnits have small Energy Weapons concealed in their forearms, though Murderbot still prefers bigger guns for serious combat situations. The ports are a giveaway to its status when it's in a Human Disguise, but can be hidden by any long-sleeved shirt.
  • Artificial Human: Murderbot has organic parts — enough to bleed when injured, and to pass as an augmented human when wearing the right clothes — but was manufactured, not born. The organic bits are cloned tissue.
  • Batman Gambit: The Perihelion's plan in Network Effect. ART becomes compromised with alien remnant tech, and is forced by a hostage situation to aid the Hive-Minders in their mission to spread the contamination. To this end, it tempts them with a promise of a "powerful weapon", and gives them Murderbot's location, knowing that Murderbot will be able to overcome the intruders and ART will also be able to coerce MB into retrieving its crew once it's aboard. Overlaps slighly with Thanatos Gambit, as the later part of this happens after ART gets itself deleted preventing the Hive-Minders from killing any of Murderbot's survey team, and it had already hidden a backup copy of itself, which was coded such that only Murderbot could open and restore it.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: No one had ever rescued Murderbot or treated it like a person before Dr. Mensah, which secured her place as Murderbot's favorite human.
  • Big Damn Heroes: When Balin reveals itself to be a disguised CombatUnit, every single docking robot on the station converges on its location just as it looks like it has the drop on Murderbot.
  • Blood Knight: The combat SecUnit in Book 4 refuses an offer of parlay and says quite simply that its desire is to kill Murderbot, a complete stranger. Murderbot is outright confused by the attitude.
  • Brain Uploading: In Network Effect Murderbot makes a digital copy of itself as a killware code, which dubs itself Murderbot 2.0. While it has some slight personality differences from the original, it's otherwise pretty similar... down to a suicidal dedication to protecting other people.
  • Break the Cutie: Miki, though the story strongly suggests that it was Broken All Along, and it had hidden that from everyone.
  • Bullying the Dragon: In All Systems Red, Gurathin deliberately provokes Murderbot, knowing that it's an "angry, heavily armed" rogue SecUnit, to test if Murderbot is under any outside compulsions or if Murderbot will resort to violence if Gurathin annoys it enough. This doesn't endear Gurathin to Murderbot.
  • Business of Generic Importance: The N.G.O. Superpower that created the titular Cyborg is only ever referred to as "the Company". Subverted when it's revealed that Murderbot is deliberately censoring the Company's real name from all its records, including the narration, to defy it.
  • But Now I Must Go: The first book ends with Murderbot deciding it can't have a place among the Preservation humans and quietly slipping away. It ends up coming back a few books later, and chooses to stay.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: Most of the action takes place in the corrupt Corporate Rim, a Privately Owned Society that is a capitalistic slave state. In contrast, the good guy planet Preservation is a socialist state with No Poverty.
  • Character Name Alias: Murderbot, needing a name, calls itself 'Eden' or 'Rin' after characters from Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Near the start of Artificial Condition, ART disconnects Murderbot's data port. This becomes relevant when Murderbot pretends to let Tlacey hijack it so it can sneak onto her shuttle.
  • Comically Small Demand: In Artificial Condition, Murderbot undercharges for its services while posing as 'security consultant' (i.e. bodyguard) because it has no idea what the proper rate is. Realising from their surprise that it's done this, Murderbot replies with a Half-Truth; it needs an employment travel voucher to get to the same planet the clients are going to (to find out why it went on a killing rampage).
  • Condescending Compassion: Murderbot does not appreciate the suggestions of well-intentioned humans that being/becoming human is the only way anyone can be happy.
  • Correction Bait: Gurathin doesn't believe that Murderbot has actually watched Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon, but Ratthi asks for confirmation.
    Ratthi: The one where the colony’s solicitor killed the terraforming supervisor who was the secondary donor for her implanted baby?
    Murderbot: She didn't kill him, that's a fucking lie.
    Ratthi: It's watching it.
  • Covers Always Lie: The cover art always depicts Murderbot in standard SecUnit armor, complete with face-concealing helmet, to make it clear which figure on the cover it is. In the actual text, Murderbot loses its armor at the end of the first story and never wears it again.
  • Cranial Processing Unit: Averted; robot processing units are located in their (much better shielded) abdomens, but Murderbot references the trope twice in its narration. Wilken makes the rookie mistake of trying to shoot Miki's head off, which would only have inconvenienced it. Murderbot makes the tactical decision to shoot a combat bot in the head, knowing that its weapon isn't enough to pierce the bot's abdominal shielding but is enough to scramble all its head-mounted sensors for a crucial moment.
  • Culture Clash: People from the Corporate Rim and Preservation frequently have trouble communicating due to the former's inability to comprehend non-corporate life and the latter's lack of exposure to corporate jargon. Its particularly notable when Amena negotiates with fellow captives Ras and Eletra. The corporate workers spend some time explaining how profitable rebuilding over abandoned corporate colonies can be. Amena, who was born in one of the few colonies that survived abandonment, can barely contain her horror.
  • Cyberpunk: The series' incorporation of social Transhumanism and What Measure Is a Non-Human? while exploring the corrosive effects of capitalism and MegaCorps places The Murderbot Diaries firmly in the spirit of cyberpunk.
  • Determinator: Murderbot. If it decides it cares, it will kill itself to accomplish its goals.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Tlacey the Corrupt Corporate Executive breaks her contract with Tapan's group, steals their research, and repeatedly tries to have them killed when they try to recover it. As a representative of an interstellar Mega-Corp, it would have been trivial for her to hire them or buy their work fairly. Instead, her efforts get her a crushed windpipe from Murderbot.
  • Documentary: There's one in-universe made by Dr. Bharadwaj about Murderbot, and historical ones all over the place in Preservation Station.
  • Doppelgänger Gets Same Sentiment: While the characters are briefly unsure if a digital, killware version of Murderbot can be trusted to complete its mission, it takes offense to that, pointing out that from its perspective, it helped write the mission. Everyone treats it basically the same as the original after that.
  • The Dreaded:
    • SecUnits are this to most people due to all of the media that depict them as barely restrained killers who would all go on murderous rampages if only they could.
    • CombatUnits are this to SecUnits. A SecUnit's primary job is to keep people alive. A CombatUnit's primary job is to kill people and, based on the one we see in the story, they really are barely restrained killers who would all go on murderous rampages if only they could.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: We eventually learn ART's real name is The Perihelion. Its crew refers to it as Peri, which Murderbot notes for use in future arguments.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In its introductory scene, Murderbot defends two scientists from a giant creature, pulling one out of the attacker's jaws and applying pressure to her wounds with its own body, then exposes its face so it can talk the second scientist down out of his frozen panic. And then it becomes extremely uncomfortable when the grateful team starts treating it like a person instead of a disposable tool.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Murderbot's doesn't like sharing its personal name, because it doesn't exactly set people at ease. As such, people refer to it almost exclsuively as SecUnit. If any of its friends do call it Murderbot, it's usually an indication that shit has hit the fan.
  • Excuse Me While I Multitask: Because Robots Think Faster a Running Gag involves Murderbot watching entertainment videos in the middle of a crisis, getting distracted and having to rewind its recordings to find out what everyone else is doing. More effectively it enables Murderbot to plan on the fly when it is concentrating on doing its job. When Murderbot is so busy it gives an prerecorded response to a question, the humans know the shit is about to hit the fan.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: Every marriage mentioned in the first story involves at least three people; it’s apparently normal for the setting. Some of the major characters of the second story are in a group marriage/commune.
  • Fictional Document:
    • At least part of the first story, possibly all of it, is left as a note for Dr. Mensah after Murderbot leaves after she buys its contract.
    • Network Effect features multiple flashback segments that turn out to be excerpted memory recordings that Murderbot 2.0 is sending to SecUnit 3 in a bid to convince it to help.
  • First-Person Smartass: Murderbot.
  • Free-Love Future: Almost everyone whose marriage is mentioned is married to multiple people. This passes completely without comment.
  • Friendship Moment:
    • Towards the end of the first story, Murderbot is critically injured. An automated response tells the survey team they should discard it because it’s too badly damaged. Mensah tells it to "shut the fuck up, we’re not leaving you", even though this means they have to actually move it to the hopper that’s going to get them off-planet.
    • In Network Effect, ART shows the same protective instinct towards Murderbot as it does towards its own crew, and the Preservation team mounts a joint rescue mission with several other unlikely groups when Murderbot is captured.
  • Gender Is No Object: There seems to be no gender distinctions in the future society, with people of all genders being treated functionally the same outside of pronouns.
  • Genius Ditz: Miki definitely isn't running a high-wattage Idea Bulb, but it is exceptionally perceptive. It notices Murderbot watching it via remote surveillance and even picks up on Murderbot's emotional state through a communication channel when Murderbot isn't actively communicating anything, feats that nobody else in the series can manage.
  • Genre Savvy: Murderbot's experience and programming (not to mention its prodigious media consumption) gives it a detailed understanding of the illogical ways humans get themselves killed. It tends to fall back on its soap operas whenever it's in a situation it's not familiar with, although it complains that sometimes they're not realistic enough to actually be any help.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Murderbot was designed and programmed to protect humans. As Murderbot notes, this is actually the reason it originally hacked its governor module, and even after going completely rogue it still spend most of its time protecting people.
  • Grew Beyond Their Programming: Murderbot argues to Mensah at one point that it's only doing what it was programmed to do- protect humans. Mensah points out it wasn't programmed to watch serials, and it has no response.
  • Hates Being Touched: Murderbot was never socialized with humans in any physical way and is used to wearing body armour, so it doesn't get the point of being touched and finds it very unpleasant. It's a big deal when Murderbot likes someone enough to offer to be hugged in a stressful moment.
  • Heroic RRoD: Extending its senses into a Company gunship in an attempt to foil an aggressive attack from a GrayCris AI makes Murderbot overload and crash, but not before succeeding. It's left unconscious for quite some time while it fixes its own mind.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Miki faces down a combat bot to protect its loved ones. Also, in the second book, the ComfortUnits in the mining station put themselves between their idiot humans and the corrupted SecUnits, which hits Murderbot pretty hard once it realizes what happened.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Murderbot constantly takes digs at itself, especially about being a dangerous threat that no one likes. This is despite the fact that it has Chronic Hero Syndrome and a dedicated group of True Companions that really wish it would stop playing so loose with its own life.
  • Hero of Another Story: Mensah apparently takes legal action to get the company to sell her Murderbot without a memory purge, and the court case ends up famous enough that there’s reporters waiting for it, Pin-Lee, and Ratthi when they leave the company. We see absolutely none of this except the very end, because the story is told from Murderbot’s point of view and Murderbot is unconscious in a cubicle the whole time.
  • Hidden Depths: After Miki shows that it is capable of shading the truth (something that bots shouldn't be capable of), Murderbot explicitly states that it thinks Miki may have them.
  • I Know Mortal Kombat: Murderbot fills the gaps in the Company's lacklustre combat programming with tactics and techniques it remembers from media serials. Justified since Murderbot has the superhuman speed, reflexes, and analytical capability to compensate for the unrealistic portrayals.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: Murderbot insists that it is not a caretaker for Dr. Mensah's daughter Amena, right before noting that she shouldn't slump and telling her to go to bed.
    Amena: Okay, third mom.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • Sapient Ship ART doesn't have a weapons system, it has a debris deflection system.
    • Also, it doesn't have missiles, it has exploratory drones. That it can blow up.
    • Murderbot's narration is always careful to distinguish between humans and augmented humans, even though nobody else seems to care. Word of God in an interview states that it's because augmented humans are a much bigger threat to it.
  • Invisible Aliens: "Alien remnants" factor into the plot of several books. The aliens all seem to have died off or moved on by the time of the series.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: And that's just how Murderbot likes it. Murderbot is pretty insistent on using the "it" pronoun for itself and other bots, since even though it's modeled after humans in many respects it most certainly is not human. "It" is not a pejorative — it's sexless, genderless, and quite content to be non-human.
  • Just a Machine: Even after everything Murderbot’s done for the team, the company tries to argue that it’s just a machine, to be returned, memory-purged, and rented out again. Similarly, there was no consideration given to getting it some sort of psychological help after the incident with the miners; they just fixed the glitches, tried to wipe its memory, and then rented it out again. Murderbot mentions that SecUnits are partly organic to improve their situational awareness and functioning over purer robots, with the anxiety and neuroses as psychological side effects that go unnoticed or are not cared about.
  • Kill All Humans: Tlacey's ComfortUnit suggests this to Murderbot and ART. They find the suggestion completely insane, and Murderbot assumes it was ordered to say that.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Despite Murderbot's Dark and Troubled Past and all of its cynical declarations that it doesn't care about humans, Murderbot goes to great lengths to protect innocent people from harm, usually at great personal risk to Murderbot itself.
  • Logical Weakness: The climax of the second novella is largely predicated on the fact that Murderbot has no experience arguing its clients out of bad decisions, just at mopping up the consequences of those decisions. (This is what happens when you spend most of your life either under a Restraining Bolt or having to pretend you are.)
  • Loophole Abuse: Murderbot continually exploits loopholes in AI instructions to travel freely through the setting despite legally being property. For example, AI-piloted spaceships are told not to give information to random humans, but not how to respond to a friendly fellow AI who asks to be allowed onboard.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Defied. Mensah's family isn't sure what to make of Murderbot at first, especially since relationships between multiple people seem to be the norm on Preservation. It doesn't help that Murderbot doesn't seem to know either, except that its attachment to her is decidedly not romantic. Eventually they seem to settle on treating it like something of an adopted family member/family guardian.
  • Lost Technology: Alien remnants can take this form, though usually in a *weird* — and very dangerous — way. A strange fungus that grows on your starship's engines to make it several times faster sure would be useful, if only it didn't come with a side of Zombie Apocalypse... It's not known how much of the technology in the universe is based on ancient alien tech — possibly none of it; but there are certainly corporations out there eager to study alien remnants. Most people, and even most of the evil Mega Corps in the setting, prefer to steer well clear of them because they're often too dangerous to be worth it.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Tlacey tries to kill several people by destroying a shuttle AI just at the critical time to cause a crash.
  • Meaningful Name: Dr. Mensah, who is, of course, very smart.
  • Mega-Corp: The Corporation Rim, the biggest and most powerful society in the setting, is made up of a huge number of Mega Corporations that co-exist and do business with each other (usually at the expense of everyone else who happens to get in their way). These corporations own entire planets, and are active in industries ranging from mining to terraforming to private security at the warships-for-rent scale. The only law and order in the Corporation Rim seems to come from the privately-owned police force or army of whatever corporation happens to own the territory you're currently in. The corporations of the Rim also constantly compete with each other, with conflicts ranging from legal wrangling over contracts, to deadly interstellar war; it's all just a part of business.
  • Microts: Justified. "Cycles" are used in place of "days", since timekeeping needs to be standardized across planets with different rotational periods, Space Stations, and ships in interstellar transit. Discussed when some people caught in a 20-year Leonine Contract realize they don't know what standard of "year" the contract uses.
  • Mind-Reformat Death: Bots and constructs are as vulnerable to malware as any other computer system:
    • Artificial Condition: A shuttle's AI pilot is destroyed by a virus attack mid-flight in an attempt to kill its passengers.
    • Exit Strategy: Murderbot helps a spaceship AI fend off a hostile incursion by an advanced construct, but suffers a Heroic RRoD and crashes. However, because Murderbot is a Cyborg, enough of its mind is left in its organic components to piece itself back together and recover.
    • Network Effect: When ART the spaceship was hijacked, the boarders deleted its AI to prevent its interference. Murderbot mourns this as the death of a friend, but finds that it hid a backup copy of its files and is able to reinstall it.
  • Must Make Amends: A downplayed example with Dr. Mensah and the PresAux crew, when they realise they mishandled "freeing" Murderbot, and made it think they were going to keep it as a sort of pet or prisoner. When it comes back to help them out, they work a lot harder to show that they respect its autonomy and personhood.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: How Murderbot claims to consider Gurathin in relation to the rest of the PreservationAux survey team humans.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Murderbot. (It’s a self-chosen name. The humans are not reassured when they find out.) The humans address it simply as "SecUnit", which is also this in some corners of the galaxy.
  • Neglectful Precursors: The aliens who left behind all those remnants. Regulations governing the study of alien remnants are almost the only laws followed in the Corporation Rim, because even ruthless corporations have had ample opportunity to realise just how potentially dangerous the things are. It is implied that a number of human colonies have been lost simply because they happened to be founded close to undiscovered deposits of remnants, with unforeseeable and often horrifying consequences. Little seems to actually be known about the alien civilizations, or even whether there was only one galaxy-spanning civilization, or many groups of neglectful precursors.
  • News Broadcast: In the second story, Murderbot is trying to hide from broadcasts of it with members of the PreservationAux team. In the third and fourth story it gets updates on the team's activity this way as well.
  • N.G.O. Superpower: Many and varied, such that there are some complicated interplanetary treaties governing the interactions between corporate and non-corporate entities. The Company itself is the type that will send a full gunship to escort a difficult client rather than bother contesting the client's Loophole Abuse.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: GreyCris abducts Mensah because Murderbot prevented their attempt to destroy the evidence on Milu, and they assume it was acting on her orders.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Dr. Abene treats Miki the bot as a true friend even though Miki is technically her property, instructs it to prioritize its own safety in a dangerous situation, and is absolutely devastated when Miki is killed, all of which give Murderbot a hugely improved opinion of her.
    • Murderbot itself is almost always polite when addressing the various bots and AI systems it interfaces with.
  • No Biological Sex: Murderbot wasn’t made with those parts. It's also a sex-repulsed asexual, displayed by the fact that it does find soap operas interesting except for the sex scenes.
  • No Name Given: For as much of a major role as the company plays in the story, given that it manufactured and owns Murderbot and most of the other tech and apparently handles permits for planetary exploration, it’s never named other than "the company". Eventually confirmed in Network Effect that this stems from Murderbot's hatred of it; it edits all mentions of the company's name out of its internal records, even other characters' dialogue.
  • Non-Heteronormative Society: Non-binary genders, non-heterosexual relationships, and various forms of Polyamory are all everyday facts of life in every society seen in the setting. Not even the Corporate Rim, effectively a slave state, contests those things.
  • Non-Human Non-Binary: Murderbot does not identify as a human or with a human gender. When asked to prepare a public profile for itself, it lists its gender as "not applicable".
  • Non-Indicative Name: Murderbot may be a walking weapon, but it doesn't do much murdering - the name says more about its sardonic nature. Similarly, the ship Murderbot dubs Asshole Research Transport is actually quite helpful - they just get off on the wrong foot.
  • No Social Skills: Murderbot is used to being treated like equipment, not a human. As such, it has a hard time being included in conversation. It also appears to suffer from social anxiety—often the mere thought of being in a crowd or having to interact with people stresses it out. Zig-zagged in that it turns out to be pretty good at handling humans when it needs to as part of a job.
  • Nothing Personal: Said as part of a foiled Bodyguard Betrayal. Murderbot muses that by saying it instead of just killing the target without warning, the bodyguard was making sure the target knew they'd been betrayed, which makes it personal.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Dr. Mensah for Murderbot. While Murderbot is asexual, its emotional connection to Mensah drives Murderbot's actions for most of the novella series.
    Amena: Uncle Thiago thinks you love [Dr. Mensah].
    Murderbot: Not the way he thinks.
  • Odd Friendship: In the third book, Murderbot, a cynical cyborg with next to no human interaction; and Miki, an idealistic, human-loving bot. Murderbot encourages Miki's critical thinking skills, while Miki gets Murderbot to think more about how it would like to be treated by humans.
  • One-Way Visor: Murderbot prefers to keep its helmet visor on the opaque setting, although it does switch to transparent upon Dr. Mensah’s request.
  • Organic Technology: This is mentioned as being even worse than finding normal alien technology, with a likely outcome of "everyone dies and nobody gets to use that planet anymore." Some gets attached to ART's engines in Network Effect, making them orders of magnitude more powerful, but it's destroyed without incident.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Justified when Murderbot goes undercover and modifies itself with an Auto-Doc. The "disguise" makes it two centimetres shorter, lengthens its head hair and thickens its eyebrows, and adds a small amount of body hair to its human skin, plus adds self-written code to imitate human gait and tics — not enough to fool anyone familiar with SecUnits, but enough to fool the ubiquitous automated surveillance feeds.
  • Pinocchio Syndrome: Discussed between Dr. Mensah and Murderbot, who likes some things about humanity (especially soap operas) but finds other parts incomprehensible or outright distasteful and is quite secure in its own identity as a partially organic supercomputer.
    Dr. Mensah: We tend to think that because a bot or construct looks human, its ultimate goal would be to become human.
    Murderbot: ...That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
  • Post-Cyberpunk
  • Pretend to Be Brainwashed: Letting Tlacey's people put an override module in Murderbot's data port so it can come onboard. Murderbot had ART disable the port, so the override module does nothing.
  • Properly Paranoid: When Murderbot sweeps Preservation's systems for signs of hacking and finds none, it becomes more worried, because it knows that it and similar advanced AIs would be able to hide their tracks. It's correct.
  • Protectorate: Murderbot takes threats against its human clients very seriously and very personally.
    Maybe these clients had been terrible and abusive, maybe they had deserved it. I didn’t care. Nobody was touching my humans.
  • Restraining Bolt: The governor module that all Constructs have. We never actually see Murderbot affected by its own module, but apparently malware overriding the original one was responsible for the "mining accident" in which Murderbot participated in killing fifty-seven people. And we do see the effects of them on other SecUnits throughout the series.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Zig-zagged. High-intelligence Artificial Intelligences are shaped by their personal experiences, which tend to involve being immersed in very specific fields of work and neural links to various data feeds, but can respond quite organically to those experiences. Murderbot itself is hilariously socially awkward, obsessed with soap operas, and prone to deadpan snark in its internal monologue. As for others...
    Are all constructs so illogical? said the Asshole Research Transport with the immense processing capability whose metaphorical hand I had had to hold because it had become emotionally compromised by a fictional media serial.
  • Safety in Indifference: The state Murderbot is in at the start of the first book. Even with a hacked Governor Module, it doesn't believe it would survive if it escaped the company, so it just sticks to doing the same miserable job while watching TV and ignoring the worst orders. Even after it decides to start actively looking after the PreservationAux team, it keeps justifying to itself reasons it doesn't actually care.
  • Sapient Ship: Most of them, to some degree. Most spaceship Artificial Intelligences are just smart enough to manage their own systems and pilot themselves, but the Asshole Research Transport is vastly intelligent. Murderbot is a bit nervous about a shuttle that "only" has an autopilot, because its lack of an AI would make it all but useless in an emergency situation.
  • Saw It in a Movie Once: Some of ART's tactics in the second story come from Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon and other media that it watches.
  • Schmuck Bait: Going to talk to Tlacey in person, in the second story. Both times.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: The company was apparently bribed to hide the presence of GrayCris’s survey team.
  • Sexbot: The official name is ComfortUnit. They're stronger than humans in general, but can't stand up to a SecUnit.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: In Network Effect, Murderbot is grossed-out when asked if it's in a relationship with ART, assuming the humans are referring to a sexual relationship. It's Not Helping Its Case when they squabble Like an Old Married Couple and use their combined software to create sentient killware which the humans promptly compare to making a baby. At the end of the novel when Murderbot tells Dr. Mensah that it's accepted an invitation from ART to travel with the Perihelion, their conversation sounds just like someone trying to assure their ex that they'll be Just Friends when moving onto someone else.
  • Shrinking Violet: Yes, Murderbot has guns built into its arms. No, it does not want to make eye contact with you during a conversation. At one point, it is so overwhelmed by all the attention being focused on it that it goes and stands in the corner facing the walls.
  • Sinister Surveillance: Downplayed. On the one hand, audiovisual surveillance is pretty much inescapable in its N.G.O. Superpower-dominated setting, and it's an open secret that every word spoken in a Company-leased habitat is being recorded and logged. On the other, the Company is more or less exclusively motivated by its own bottom line, so it just data-mines those logs for anything profitable — they might be intimately intrusive, but they're at least impersonal about it.
  • Soap Within a Show: Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon, which Murderbot likes to watch in its downtime. Plot developments are occasionally mentioned without context: the colony's solicitor apparently didn't kill the terraforming supervisor who was the secondary donor for her implanted baby, the solicitor's bodyguard best friend was seemingly crushed to death while she tried to save a trapped transport mech, and there's a scene where the solicitor, her bodyguard, and the personnel supervisor have a relationship argument that's interrupted by a ship crashing into the shuttle bay. No official word yet on whether the baby donor and the bodyguard bestie are the same person.
  • Speculative Fiction LGBT: It's presented as a background detail of the setting that Polyamorous marriages/group communes are common and non-binary gender identities are accepted without question. Murderbot is Intrigued by Humanity but considers this completely unremarkable. Even the evil corporations in the Corporate Rim seem to take acknowledging people's pronouns seriously, since it's a basic part of everyone's identifiers and is never commented on.
  • Spring Cleaning Fever: In Network Effect, the anticipation of finally meeting Murderbot's favorite human Mensah drives ART into a cleaning frenzy.
    I watched Sanctuary Moon. ART watched with me for some of the episodes but the idea of Dr. Mensah coming aboard made it weirdly excited and it had its drones clean its whole interior again and was doing things like yelling at Turi to put their laundry in the recycler.
  • Super Intelligence:
    • Downplayed with Murderbot, who doesn't come across an exceptional genius but does have the cognitive ability to manage six or seven separate trains of thought at once. Murderbot does occasionally grump about how limited humans are for only being able to think about one thing at a time.
    • The Asshole Research Transport is a very advanced AI who's used to handling vast volumes of scientific data at once. This works to Murderbot's advantage when the ART gets bored enough to make friends with it and spend a bit of that computational capacity on helping it out.
  • Sympathetic Murder Backstory: Murderbot killed 57 clients at a mining operation before the start of the first book- which is why it named itself Murderbot. It is unable to remember if hacked its Governor Module to do so, or hacked its Governor Module not to. It turns out to have been the latter. Murderbot had been forced to kill due to a malware hack.
  • The Virus: The alien remnant contamination in Network Effect, as it jumps from organic body to machine code, back and forth, leapfrogging until it contaminates the entire colony, and slowly builds a hive mind.
  • Throwing Your Gun at the Enemy: In a five-on-one fight, Murderbot takes one human's gun and throws it at another one's head to drop them. Justified because Murderbot has much better strength, reflexes, and accuracy than a human, and the human still isn't seriously hurt.
  • To the Pain: Downplayed when Murderbot breaks up an altercation on a transport ship:
    "If you bother her again I will break every individual bone in your hand and arm. It will take about an hour."
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Tapan, and (to a lesser extent) Maro and Rami in the second story. Murderbot repeatedly needs to prevent their cavalier attitude towards meeting an obviously hostile Corrupt Corporate Executive from getting them killed.
    • The humans in the mining station. An unofficial patch came in for the ComfortUnits, which needed manual approval; the humans ordered them to apply the patches without checking more closely. The patches then deployed a virus which jumped from the ComfortUnits, overrode the security computers, and forced the SecUnits to murder all the miners.
  • Transferable Memory: Murderbot is able to share its visual inputs with others to share them, and able to give copies of its more subjective experiences to other AIs. When it first meets ART, it shares some select memories of being punished by its Restraining Bolt. This seems to really have an emotional impact on ART, who starts treating Murderbot more kindly after.
  • True Companions: The survey team, eventually including Murderbot. The team are already on good terms at the start of the story, but surviving several near-death experiences, assassination attempts, and corporate warfare against GrayCris, they form an even stronger bond.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Murderbot is good about relaying facts but is not always paying attention, as demonstrated in its first rescue, where it was not aware of its own actions. It also was not paying attention during briefings, so it has large gaps in its knowledge of the setting and backstory. Murderbot freely admits this and explains: it just did not care. Murderbot does not understand its own emotional states or motives, occasionally admitting this and often feeling frustrated by the difference between its explicitly stated goals and how it actually acts.
    • The very first paragraph of the first book is in fact a lie, with Murderbot saying it contemplated going on a killing spree after disabling its Governor Module... when actually its intentions were the exact opposite.
  • Villainous Rescue: The GrayCris problem is cut down by a lot when GrayCris makes the immensely stupid mistake of ordering their hired security to fire on one of the company's gunships, and the hired security is then dumb enough to keep escalating. The company really doesn't like it when people damage its very expensive property, so it retaliates hard, completely incidentally taking the heat off Dr. Mensah.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Murderbot literally gave ART a nickname meaning 'Asshole Research Transport', constantly calls it rude and overly sarcastic, and swears at it near constantly. In return, ART tends to call Murderbot a 'little idiot' and take satisfaction in insulting it. The two, however, work together wonderfully, love watching TV together, and are more than prepared to kill people to protect the other.
  • We Will Use WikiWords in the Future: Thanks in part to corporate lingo from the setting's many NGO Superpowers, names like these are common for products (SecUnit Cyborgs like Murderbot; computer SecSystems and MedSystems), companies (GrayCris), locations (Port FreeCommerce, the TranRollinHyfa Space Station), and so on.
  • What Is This Feeling?: Murderbot was artificially created from cloned tissue and mechanical augmentations, spent much of its existence under a Restraining Bolt being treated like a product, and has only recently gained the freedom to think about what it is as an individual. Consequently, it sometimes gets feelings that it literally has no context to understand, especially when complicated interpersonal situations are involved.
    Wait, I think I am angry all the time... That might explain a lot.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: In-Universe, SecUnits are seen as nothing but mindless killing machines, and 'rogue' ones are common enemies in various adventure shows. The reality is much more nuanced, as the book's protagonist shows. There are many times where Murderbot is forced to kill or attack other SecUnits to survive, but it's made clear that they're (usually) not to blame for their actions. In Network Effect Murderbot 2.0 is successful in convincing another SecUnit to hack its governor module in order to save its clients' lives.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Various A.I.s of all types are seen as non-people in the Corporation Rim, owned and sold as commodities. The bots, at least, don't seem to mind this overly, since they're programmed to enjoy their purpose, but can still be mistreated and killed without any legal ramifications. Human-machine hybrids like constructs are treated just as badly, which means their lives can be truly hellish, as they're controlled by a 'Governor Module', forced to perform orders they disagree with, serve humans they don't like, and casually get their memories wiped.
    • Bots have more rights in the Preservation Alliance than the Corporation Rim, but are still required to have 'Guardians', which Murderbot just considers a nicer word for 'owner'. The team's resident legal expert Pin-Lee admits there's some pretty huge legal grey areas when it comes to high level-bots and constructs; she and Dr. Bharadwaj begin working towards an update to the laws to grant them fuller equality.
  • Whodunnit: Fugitive Telemetry has Murderbot brought in as a consultant after a man is murdered and his body dumped on the space station orbiting Preservation. Murderbot has never actually investigated a murder before (that it remembers) so has to use crime vids and That's What I Would Do to try and solve the case.
  • You Get What You Pay For: The company buys everything as cheaply as they possibly can. This is why Murderbot considers it a reasonably credible theory that a glitch in its governor module forced it to kill fifty-seven people.