Exclusive Interview: “Exit Strategy” Author Martha Wells
By calling the fourth book Exit Strategy (hardcover, Kindle), you might think sci-fi writer Martha Wells is bring her series The Murderbot Diaries to a close. But as we discuss in the following email interview, while Exit Strategy is the end of this particular saga, it isn’t the last we’ll be hearing from our fair Murderbot.
For those unfamiliar with this series, who is Murderbot, what are The Murderbot Diaries about, and aside from being the fourth and final book in this sequence, how else does Exit Strategy connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the other three novellas?
Murderbot is a SecUnit, an android that is partially organic, and is rented out to provide security to the clients of what is basically an insurance company. It’s supposed to be controlled by a governor module that will punish it if it doesn’t obey orders, but it’s been able to secretly hack its own module, so it has free will. The expectation is that a SecUnit with free will would immediately go on a mass murder binge. Instead, it’s been downloading and watching entertainment media. In the first novella, All Systems Red, Murderbot has to reveal that it isn’t under its human clients’ control in order to protect them. They free it from the company, but it escapes and travels in the next two novellas, Artificial Condition and Rogue Protocol. Exit Strategy is set directly after Rogue Protocol, and finishes off the story arc begun in All Systems Red.
When in the process of writing these books did you come up with the idea for Exit Strategy, and how did the story evolve as you were writing it?
I came up with it while I was writing Rogue Protocol, though as soon as I knew I would be doing a four novella series, I started thinking about it as the conclusion, and deciding where I wanted to take the story, where Murderbot would be at the end. When I started actually writing Exit Strategy, I still wasn’t sure what the ending would be, so it did evolve quite a bit while I was writing it.
Exit Strategy, like the other novellas, is a science fiction story. But are there any subgenres of sci-fi, or maybe combinations of them, that are also at work in this story?
Each novella in the series has a space opera feel, and a few elements of military SF.
Are there any writers or specific stories that were a big influence on Exit Strategy but not on any of the previous Murderbot novellas?
How about non-literary influences; did any movies, TV shows, or video games have a big impact on Exit Strategy?
No. I wrote the novellas one after the other, with very little time between them, so they all had pretty much the same influences.
While Exit Strategy is the end of The Murderbot Diaries series, it’s not the end for Murderbot, as you’ve announced you’re going to be writing a Murderbot novel. What can you tell us about it?
It’s set a short time after the end of Exit Strategy, and is going to involve Murderbot reuniting with ART from Artificial Condition. It should be out in 2020. I’ve been thinking about a title, but haven’t come up with anything yet.
Is the plan for the Murderbot novel to also be part of a series, like a trilogy, or is it part of The Murderbot Diaries series?
It’s going to be part of The Murderbot Diaries series. At this point, there’s no plan for a trilogy, just this single book. That might change later, but for now I’m just concentrating on it.
The novel obviously wouldn’t be happening if people didn’t like the novellas. But more than that, people really like Murderbot. Writer Ann Leckie famously said, “I love Murderbot,” and in my interview with Karen Dunstall — who, with her sister Sherylyn, writes as S.K. Dunstall — she said, “Murderbot is awesome.” What is it about Murderbot that you think people just love so much?
I’ve had experience with anxiety and depression and I used that to develop Murderbot’s characterization, so I think a lot of people who have had those kinds of issues or similar ones feel a kinship there. While Murderbot tries to conceal its emotions, it expresses them very honestly as it narrates the story, and I think that lets people sympathize and understand what it’s going through.
Along with Exit Strategy, Tor.com Publishing are also rereleasing the first Murderbot novella, All Systems Red, in hardcover on January 22nd. I assume not, but is there anything different about that version that wasn’t in the original paperback?
No, it’s just a reissue of the same version so the format will match the other hardcovers.
Going back to Exit Strategy, as we said, it’s the last book in The Murderbot Diaries. As you know, some people wait until every book in a series is out, and then read them all in a row. Do you think people should do this with The Murderbot Diaries, or is there some story-based reason why you think people should put space between the novellas?
I think it works either way, but I think Murderbot would tell people to go ahead and binge-read them.
Now, in the interview we did about Artificial Condition [which you can read here], I asked if there had been any interest in making a Murderbot movie, TV show, or video game, and you said, “I can’t say anything at this time.” Is that still the case?
It’s pretty much still the case. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to say something.
Finally, if someone has enjoyed Exit Strategy and the rest of The Murderbot Diaries, which of your other novels or novellas would you suggest they read while waiting for the Murderbot novel to come out?
The Books Of The Raksura series is a fantasy adventure instead of SF, but it’s also about non-human characters and an alien society. And even though it’s fantasy, it does have some SF elements, like biological technology, and technology that might be masquerading as magic.