Martha Wells is the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Award-winning author of The Murderbot Diaries, as well as other SFF series including The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy and The Books of the Raksura. The first full-length Murderbot novel, Network Effect, is available now from Tor.com Publishing!
Recently, the author dropped by r/Fantasy for an AMA to talk about everything from Murderbot’s favorite TV show, to worlds she’d like to revisit, to her favorite books and authors. Head below for the highlights!
[Editor’s note: Questions and responses may have been edited for length and clarity.]
What drew you to the idea of a sentient AI? What’s something you hope readers take away from the person/character of Murderbot?
The original idea that I started with in All Systems Red was about an enslaved security person, and a sentient AI fit the best with what I wanted to do.
I would hope for people to think about how the corporations in the story decide who gets to be human and who doesn’t, and how their society got to that point, and realize how that happens here in our world.
Which characters from your different series would you most like to have meet each other?
Offhand, I think Kade Carrion from The Element of Fire and Nicholas Valiarde from The Death of the Necromancer could do some awesome damage together.
If you had to spend a day with a character from a series you wrote, and in their world, who would you choose?
I think Ratthi [from The Murderbot Diaries] might be the most fun to hang out with.
Can you recommend your favourite science fiction short story of all time?
A lot of authors seem to discourage writing novellas; what made you decide to go short?
That used to be the case, because there just weren’t markets for novellas. They were too short for book publishers and too long for most print magazines. But once ebooks and online magazines became more prevalent, that changed completely, and now novellas are everywhere.
I originally meant for All Systems Red to be a short story, but the story needed to be longer. After Tor.com Publishing bought it for their novella line, they wanted more novellas and I wanted to write more about the character, so it became a novella series.
Was it hard to find a publisher who would want to produce stories that might seem controversial to some readers? Was there ever a push to make your characters more ‘normal’?
In the past, yes, particularly with the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. It was also hard to find a publisher for the Books of the Raksura series, because it was so different. It was rejected by just about everybody before Night Shade Books bought it. But Tor.com Publishing has been very supportive of the Murderbot books from the very beginning.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I knew when I was very young. I think it was because I read Erma Bombeck’s books when I was a kid, and that was when I realized writers were real people and you could actually do it as a job.
What have you been reading in quarantine?
Right now I’m reading one of Sharon Shinn’s older books from her Samaria series, Jovah’s Angel, and I recently read The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chockshi and Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh. I’m getting ready to read Null Set by S.L. Huang and Driving the Deep by Suzanne Palmer.
[Editor’s note: Martha talks more about these titles here.]
Murderbot loves to zone out in front if its favorite shows; what shows are you currently binging during quarantine?
I got Disney+ just so I could watch The Mandalorian, and I watch The Flash and I love Legends of Tomorrow. But I’ve also been watching a lot of older shows, mostly British mysteries, old ones and newer ones like Broadchurch. I can’t wait for the next season of The Expanse.
What’s your go-to book when you want an escape?
Right now I really like the Rivers of London series [by Ben Aaronivitch], since it’s so detailed that it’s great for re-reading.
What author(s) would you cite as your biggest influence?
Andre Norton, Judith Tarr, Tanith Lee, Phylliis Gotlieb, Janet Kagan, Diane Duane, to name a few.
What is one book that particularly resonates with you, or that you wish you could have written?
I don’t know if there’s anything I wish I could have written since my favorite books to read are ones that I couldn’t have written myself, if that makes sense. Early favorites that I re-read a lot were Mirabile by Janet Kagan, The Door into Summer by Diane Duane, and A Judgement of Dragons by Phyllis Gotlieb.
Can you recommend other authors that write sci-fi similar to your own?
I don’t know if they’re particularly similar to the way I write, but I love Ann Leckie, Lois McMaster Bujold, Yoon Ha Lee, Suzanne Palmer (Finder and Driving the Deep), Tade Thompson (Rosewater), Melissa Scott (Finders), Arkady Martine (A Memory Called Empire), Karen Lord (The Best of All Possible Worlds) and Aliette de Bodard (The Tea Master and the Detective).
Do you think you’ll ever write any more books that take place in Ile-Rien?
I really don’t know if I’ll even go back to Ile-Rien. It’s been a long time since I wrote in that world and I usually want to work on new ideas. But I hate to say I’ll never go back to it.
Have you got any works planned that may not directly involve the Raksura but are set in the Three Worlds?
I haven’t gotten anything on the table yet, but I do want to go back to the Three Worlds at some point. It probably wouldn’t involve the Raksura, but would be about other characters in a different part of the world.
What existing media comes closest to The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon, a favorite of Muderbot? I had always envisioned one of those historical K-dramas (but in spaaaaace).
It’s based loosely on nighttime mystery/dramas, like How To Get Away With Murder. There is a show mentioned in Network Effect that’s more based on a K-drama.
If Murderbot were on this world, what media do you think it would re-watch to calm down?
The Great British Baking Show. :)
Head on over to r/Fantasy for the full AMA.