Interview with Martha Wells

picture of Martha Wells by Igot Kraguljac
credit Igot Kraguljac

Martha Wells has been an SF/F writer since her first fantasy novel was published in 1993, and her work includes The Books of the Raksura series, The Death of the Necromancer, the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, The Murderbot Diaries series, media tie-in fiction for Star Wars, Stargate: Atlantis, and Magic: the Gathering, as well as short fiction, YA novels, and non-fiction. She has won Nebula Awards, Hugo Awards, and Locus Awards, and her work has appeared on the Philip K. Dick Award ballot, the BSFA Award ballot, the USA Today Bestseller List, and the New York Times Bestseller List. Her books have been published in twenty-two languages.  You can find her online at marthawells.com.

Shauna Kosoris: What was the inspiration for Murderbot, the main character from your Murderbot Diaries series?

Martha Wells: There was really no specific inspiration. I got the idea when I was working on the ending of The Harbors of the Sun, the last novel in the Books of the Raksura series. I was working very hard on the book, and just getting a lot of ideas for other books and stories. Somehow during that time I got an idea for a short story about an enslaved security person who had destroyed their governor module but would have to reveal that to save an innocent group of scientists. The first scene that I came up with was the moment in All Systems Red where Mensah knocks on the wall of Murderbot’s cubicle. I started to write the idea down so I wouldn’t forget it, then I ended up writing the cubicle scene. I had to make myself stop and go back to work on the novel. After I was done with it, I wrote All Systems Red.

The newest book in the series, Fugitive Telemetry, just came out this spring. What can you tell me about it?

It’s a prequel to Network Effect and is set on Preservation Station, where Murderbot has to solve the murder of an unknown person found dead in a station corridor. Knowing Graycris is possibly planning an assassination attempt on Dr. Mensah, Murderbot has to make sure this isn’t related, and ends up having to help Station Security solve the crime, whether Station Security likes it or not.

Did you originally plan for the Murderbot Diaries to be an ongoing series of novellas?

When I got the idea for All Systems Red, I thought it would be a short story with a sad ending. When I started writing it, I knew it needed to be longer, and a novella seemed like the perfect length. When the publisher, TorDotCom, bought the completed novella, they asked for a second one, though it didn’t necessarily have to be another Murderbot story. But I liked writing the character, so I decided to write a sequel. Once that was finished, I had the idea for the story arc and agreed with the publisher to write two more installments in the series.

And now the series is even bigger at six books!  My favourite parts of The Murderbot Diaries are the interactions between Murderbot and the other characters, particularly the AIs such as ART.  Is it hard to write engaging AI characters? 

It’s not hard at all. When writing from any point of view, you have to try to see through that character’s eyes, try to see what is important to them, how they interact with the world. With writing an AI character, I wanted to try to depict what an AI would want, not what a human thinks and AI would want.

Judging by the success of the Murderbot Diaries, I think you nailed it.  You’ve also got a new fantasy novel coming out next year, Witch King.  What can you tell me about that?

All I can tell you right now is that it’s a secondary world fantasy, and isn’t related to any of my other books.

That’s fair.  I look forward to hearing more about it next year!  As part of the deal with Tordotcom that’s publishing Witch King, there are going to be three more Murderbot Diaries books, and two other novels.  Will the novels be related to Witch King?  Or are they all standalone stories?

I’m honestly not sure yet. The next thing I’ll be working on after Witch King is a new Murderbot story.

I can’t wait!  So what are you working on now?

I’m finishing up Witch King.

I’d like to end with a few questions about reading.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I was inspired by a lot of different writers, like Andre Norton, Tanith Lee, Robert Merle, Phyllis Ann Karr, Phyllis Gotlieb, Barbara Hambly. I still get inspired by other writers’ work. I think anything that gets my imagination running is an inspiration. I love interestingly strange worlds. Andre Norton was probably one of my earliest influences that had the biggest impact on me. I think one of the things that really caught my attention about her work is that many of her books seem to start in strange places, with characters heading into even stranger places, exploring alien worlds or fantasy landscapes.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Not really. With individual taste and what different people will find inspiring, I think it’s impossible to name one book that everyone should read.

And what are you currently reading?

Right now I’m reading The Cannonball Tree Mystery by Ovidia Yu. It’s part of a historical mystery series set in Singapore.

cover of Fugitive Telemetry

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