Exclusive Q&A: Sci-fi author Martha Wells talks about her latest Murderbot novella, 'Fugitive Telemetry'

“Fugitive Telemetry” (Tor, 2021) is the latest installment of award-winning author Martha Wells's popular "Murderbot Diaries" book series.
“Fugitive Telemetry” (Tor, 2021) is the latest installment of award-winning author Martha Wells's popular "Murderbot Diaries" book series. (Image credit: Tordotcom Publishing)

Murderbot is back! Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Martha Wells's insanely popular "Murderbot Diaries" book series, which began with "All Systems Red" (Tor, 2017), has just powered up a new novella starring everyone's favorite rogue android security unit.

"Fugitive Telemetry" (Tor, 2021) acts as a prequel to 2020's full Murderbot novel, "Network Effect" (Tor), which is the most recently published work in the line. It directly follows the novella quartet that ended with 2018's "Exit Strategy" (Tor).

Here in this new installment, the snarky Murderbot simply wants to binge-watch its favorite soap operas and protect its friends from being killed by the powerful and nefarious corporation they've angered. But then a human corpse turns up on Preservation Station, and Murderbot leaps to action with security forces to help to solve the murder. 

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This means ducking bullets, spacewalks in shoddy equipment, mountains of data analysis and the unpleasant experience of  having to talk to human beings again.

Space.com recently connected with Wells to learn all about Murderbot's mysterious homicide investigation, staying inspired within the world, what's on tap for more "Murderbot" books in the future and the fascination of watching NASA's Ingenuity helicopter on Mars.

Space.com: Can you take us on a speed run of "Fugitive Telemetry" and how it fits within the "Murderbot Diaries" saga?

Wells: There's a scene in "Network Effect" where Murderbot shows Thiago a video clip of an incident when it stopped an assassination attempt on Dr. Mensah, with the help of Preservation Station Security. In the clip, Murderbot has a good working relationship with the Station Security people. 

So I wanted to go back in the timeline a little and show how Murderbot's relationship with those characters developed, the rocky start when Murderbot was still getting acclimated to the station, and how the people on the station got acclimated to Murderbot. And I've always loved murder mysteries, so that seemed a fun way to do it.

Space.com: What keeps you inspired and engaged as a writer with this cyborg series?

Wells: I really enjoy writing the character, and for the past few years, working on the novellas and the novels have been a big comfort to me. They can be very difficult to write; Murderbot's point of view, through various online systems and drones, makes the logistics of action scenes very complicated. And navigating the emotions of Murderbot's perspective can be intense.

I tend to do a lot of rewriting, throwing out 5,000-10,000 words per novella and starting over again. The novel was even more difficult and took about 18 months to write with a lot of false starts. But I'm very engaged with the character and the world.

Space.com: How do today's advancements in AI and robotics help forge interest in the "Murderbot" books?

Wells: I'm not really sure if they do. Murderbot is set in the far, far future and is not based on any real AI. But readers have always been interested in robot and AI characters, from the very beginnings of science fiction. Explorations of AI characters are very popular now, like Annalee Newitz' "Autonomous," Anne Leckie's "Ancillary Justice," S.B. Divya's "Machinehood," and the anthology "Made to Order: Robots and Revolution."

Space.com: Do you enjoy research? And what aspects of space science intrigue you most? 

Wells: Much of my research was first-person experience in programming and database design back in the '90s and early 2000s. But my favorite aspect of space science right now is watching the progress of the Mars rovers and the new Ingenuity helicopter.

Space.com: Any adaptation plans for these "Murderbot" books for TV or a feature film?

Wells: There are plans for a TV series, but it's still under development right now.

Space.com: What's next on your creative plate, and where might Murderbot go next?

Wells: Right now I'm working on a fantasy novel, but I'll be doing at least three more "Murderbot" books, probably two novellas and another novel, which will probably take place after "Network Effect."

Martha Wells's "Fugitive Telemetry" is available now.

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.