It is time to abandon ship me mateys! This one was recommended by me first mate because he loved it. Of course he did warn me that there was a 50/50 shot that I wouldn’t like it.
I made it to the 53% mark before calling it quits. To be fair the beginning of the novel was wonderful. This is the story of a dude named Bob who signs up for a cryogenics program, dies, and wakes up in the future as an artificial intelligence computer program.
The circumstances that Bob finds himself in, the politics of the world, how Bob deals with it, and the beginning of Bob’s exploration of the universe were delightful. Bob is a bit of a nerd to put it mildly. His quirky personality made the beginning of the novel fly by.
The side characters like Bob’s AI digital personal assistant, Guppy and the other “Bobs” are humorous. There are deeper concepts woven throughout concerning identity, personality, technology, and space exploration. The mix of cool technology and the silliness of Bob were wonderful.
The problem for me was that eventually, it was less about Bob exploring his new roles in life and more about determining the future. I got bored. There are only so many descriptions of new planets, mining, and such that I could take. It began to feel repetitive. There began to be gaps in time where we skipped the process of Bob figuring things out and jumped to the problem having being mostly solved. I get that Bob’s AI is way beyond me brain skills but I just wasn’t absorbed in the story. So I gave up. Of course the first mate disagrees with me . . .
From the First Mate:
One of my absolute favorite “cancelled too soon” t.v. series was a show from 1999 called “Now and Again.” The premise of the show was that an ad executive is accidentally killed in the subway, his brain is stolen by the government, and then a scientist puts that brain into an artificial body for use as a spy/assassin/whatever. What the scientist and the government didn’t count on was that a lazy ad executive’s personality is completely at odds with what they ultimately wanted to do with the artificial body. And that conflict was really the driving force of the show. The ad executive wanted to get away and be with his family again, while the scientist and the government wanted him to train and be a machine.
“We Are Legion (We Are Bob)” plays with the same trope (a normalish person is flung into a military science project against his will) but spins it in completely the opposite direction. Bob is simply too competent a programmer to be bound by the controls that the military has placed on him, and much of the fun of the first half of the book is watching him figure out ways to do what he wants instead of what is expected of him. And the first half of the book is fantastic. Dennis E. Taylor covers some quality philosophical ground without dragging the plot to a halt. We’re given an amazingly depressing in its plausibility backstory of the theocratic government of the future. Some quality tension in a ticking clock scenario to get Bob in space. There’s even a very compelling discussion of why 3D printers ultimately take the sci-fi place of nanotechnology in this world. And skiffy references galore. So many fun references.
While I was reading the first half of the book, I was thinking “this is the most fun I’ve had with a sci-fi book in forever.” I was also pondering, “this is so fun, I wonder if I should recommend this to the Captain.”
Unfortunately, for me, the second half of the book doesn’t quite live up to the first half. Which is a shame, as the second half of the book is where the “We Are Legion” aspect really takes off. The conceptual aspect of a multiplicity of Bobs is very interesting and Taylor does a very good job of differentiating the various Bobs. It’s just, well, the uses to which he puts them were less than interesting to me. Indeed, one storyline that involves a primitive civilization seems to be little more than a way of keeping one of the Bobs sidelined from the other storylines. Another gets bogged down in a very realistic bureaucratic negotiation situation that, while well written, didn’t make me smile in the ways that the first half of the book did. Still enjoyable, just a step down from earlier.
I suppose the major difference between the first and second half of the book is that the second half didn’t feel as though Bob et. al. was staying ahead of anyone. Sure, they planned and prepared for various scenarios (some which worked out and others which did not), but generally it was all very reactive. The first half of the book was full of Bob outsmarting controls and limits using skills that the military didn’t expect him to have. Perhaps that means that the first half is pure nerd fantasy, while the second half is more of a variant on hard sci-fi in space.
In some ways, “We Are Legion (We Are Bob)” feels like it fits in with the work of early Heinlein or Scalzi. Sci-fi adventurism with some hard sci-fi trappings. If that’s in your wheelhouse, it’s well worth a look. Me? I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel later this year.
Goodreads has this to say about the novel:
Bob Johansson has just sold his software company and is looking forward to a life of leisure. There are places to go, books to read, and movies to watch. So it’s a little unfair when he gets himself killed crossing the street.
Bob wakes up a century later to find that corpsicles have been declared to be without rights, and he is now the property of the state. He has been uploaded into computer hardware and is slated to be the controlling AI in an interstellar probe looking for habitable planets. The stakes are high: no less than the first claim to entire worlds. If he declines the honor, he’ll be switched off, and they’ll try again with someone else. If he accepts, he becomes a prime target. There are at least three other countries trying to get their own probes launched first, and they play dirty.
The safest place for Bob is in space, heading away from Earth at top speed. Or so he thinks. Because the universe is full of nasties, and trespassers make them mad – very mad.
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