This third (and penultimate) entry in Martha Wells's The Murderbot Diaries picks up immediately after the prior episode Artificial Condition, setting Murderbot off a new adventure with a new group of humans and bots while continuing its search for evidence against the evil corporation, GrayCris.
Having been binge-listening to The Murderbot Diaries, I have to admit the formulaic structure of these episodes is getting a bit creaky. Both Artificial Condition and Rogue Protocol follow the exact same story beats - Murderbot sneaks aboard a ship, encounters and befriends an artificial intelligence aboard ship, then saves the humans. There's not a lot of room for surprise, and the similar length both of these entries share make these events feel very scheduled, the plot operating like clockwork in accordance to a rigorous three act structure. You could almost time the occurrence of both books' events right down the minute.
While the structure of The Murderbot Diaries is by now intimately familiar, Wells does find a few spots to make fresh. The character dynamics and personalities of Rogue Protocol are almost a direct inverse of the prior episode, with Murderbot attempting to hide from the ship's crew before facing its own natural instincts (or perhaps its base SecUnit coding is more accurate) to protect them. We get another view of human-AI interaction, helping to illustrate the diversity among even artificial man-made constructs. Some robots are forced into mortal combat for their owner's entertainment, while others are infantilized and treated more like pets. Actual equality between man and machine, though, is awfully rare and Murderbot at times struggles between its nature as a rogue unit and the expectations placed upon it by humans that view it as nothing more than a standard factory-line killing machine. This societal dimension of the story still has plenty of material left for Wells to explore, and it's been one of the highlights of the series thus far.
Kevin R. Free has settled into narrating duties, having found a comfortable style in the prior entry that he carries over to Rogue Protocol. There's perhaps little point in reinventing the wheel, narration-wise, three books into the series, and whether you dug Free's style or not thus far, you'll know exactly what to expect here. For me, it's a bit too gentle and even keel of a reading and the easy-listening nature of it makes my mind susceptible to wandering.
Rogue Protocol keeps on keeping on as the series builds towards its finale in book #4. Diving into this one right on the heels of its predecessor, though, makes the story feel a bit too repetitive as Wells eschews any narrative risks in order to deliver a safe story built in the exact same mold as book #2. If you've been enjoying this series so far, Rogue Protocol certainly isn't a deal breaker by any means, but it's not exactly fresh and exciting either.
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