Exit Strategy: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells concludes the series, at least so far, and made me very happy, except I still want more. There is a lot more world out there to explore, and a lot more for Murderbot to learn about itself and struggle with. Once I was done reading it, and it really helped me a lot to have something like this to read last week, I re-read the whole series of four novellas in order, keeping in mind that this is a specfic escaped slave narrative.
This time, I noticed how each story focused on different aspects of Murderbot’s growth as it related to interacting with different people, including Artificial Intelligences. First, there are human clients who learn it is sentient and feel sympathy for it, which Murderbot finds difficult to accept; then a more powerful AI who becomes an annoying and sarcastic friend who is both more powerful and more autonomous than Murderbot, despite caring deeply about its humans; then Miki, a bot about whom Murderbot is deeply conflicted because of the nuances of how Miki and Don Abene, its human, interact. Murderbot regards Miki as a child, I think, though it mostly seems upset that Miki is treated like a being in its own right, with love, by its humans, in ways that Murderbot was not. In the fourth installment, Murderbot returns to the humans of the first installment, and we can see how their relationships have changed. Murderbot has exercised its autonomy to a greater extent, and is somewhat more confident in expressing personal desires and emotions.
I devoured The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas, book three in The Lady Sherlock Series. Several characters had a lot going on emotionally, and I particularly enjoyed the journey of Inspector Treadles as he, shall we say, got a little more woke about feminism. The murder mystery is convoluted, but the outcome delighted me for seeming just as wacky as something I would have read in one of the original Conan Doyle stories. I am hoping there will be more of this series; a lot of plot elements were tied off, but there is plenty of scope for more stories.
I read Band Sinister by K.J. Charles on a trusted friend’s recommendation and found it was exactly what I was looking for: a male/male historical romance about good people who talk about their problems and solve them in mutually acceptable ways, with bonus found family aspects. A range of sexualities is presented, as well as a poly relationship, and everything works out all right in the end. Plus, the main female character is a Gothic novelist, so bonus.
Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail W. Jeffrey Bolster looks at how both enslaved and free black men worked as sailors, establishing some free blacks as middle class in New England, and how eventually oppressive laws and imposed segregation began to drive them out of the profession starting around the 1850s. This is a dense book supported by lots of statistics, giving a thorough picture of both the general run of black sailors and the outliers who profited, for example, as ship captains. I found the early chapters particularly interesting, as they showed how African seagoing practices, especially the techniques and boats they used in dangerous surf, were appropriated and reused for similar environments on the other side of the Atlantic, leading to many enslaved African pilots and coasters, who were able to enjoy at least some degree of autonomy. The book also shows the influences of black culture on sailing culture in general, for instance with the development of sea shanties as a distinctive musical form, and provides a case study of how cultural divisions showed up in black and white American sailors imprisoned in Dartmoor during war with Britain.