It’s not often that I come across a novel that manages to jump to the top of my to-read list based on few factors, but We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E Taylor (the first book in his Bobiverse) is certainly one of them. I heard about it over on the SFFWorld.com forums where some other members had read it an enjoyed it, and as I have similar tastes to them I knew it was right up my strreet. I decided that this would be an audiobook listen rather than a normal read after listening to the sample and liking what I heard, so off I went… and blasted through the 9 hours 30 minute length in what seemed like a tenth of that time.
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.
Now, the above synopsis pretty much sums up the first part of the novel – Bob dying, being frozen, waking up as a computer program after his brain was scanned (destroying it in the process), and then training to be the personality in a probe to the stars. It’s nice, quick, and to-the-point, though it’s not entirely plain sailing through all of this. Bob learns more and more of the situation on Earth as his training progresses, and it is not good. Nuclear war between nations of the world is all but innevitable, so the race to be the first to launch a probe is a high stakes game – and it’s not an idea that everyone in the religious government behind Bob’s attempt is happy about. With all that said and done, Bob manages to make his way to the stars with the hope of finding a new planet for humans to colonise.
Now, as a copy of the original now residing in computer hardware, Bob has some rather tough and deep thoughts about the nature of his being after he comes online. Fortunately there are inhibitors to stop an emotional reaction to these, though these are mainly to enhance compatibility and stop his silicon death due to insanity. It’s actually a really good way to examine this aspect without an emotional connection – at least until Bob is ready to add that to the mix – and Taylor manages to do so very well without drowning the narrative in too much introspection.
As Bob reaches a new star system and begins the process of finding resources to duplicate himself the story really gets going. We’re initially introduced to his copies, though as they spread out further we get copies of copies. If it sounds like it’s going to end up as one personality repeated over and over through the differing plot threads then there really is no need to worry – there are differences! The quantum copying method results in all copies varying to one degree or another, and it adds a good dynamic between copies of Bob (all of which decide to take on new names). You’d think they’d all get along fine, but there is plenty of friction and humour resulting in the dynamic between them all.
We Are Legion (We Are Bob) delivers on exploration and discovery, while keeping the human aspect alive through a return to Sol and communication with Earth’s survivors. Each of the many threads explored is interesting – some more than others – but the main two focus on Earth and the discovery of an intelligent stone-age equivalent alien civilisation. The Earth thread is easily recognisable, with various factions demanding higher priority, and the constant head-butting between them all while Bob tries to play negotiator, trying (and sometimes failing) to keep them in check. The alien thread is a good look at first contact, though it stumbles at times due to Bob’s (or at least one copy of him) interference through the use of his machines to help the indigenous population.
Ultimately We Are Legion (We Are Bob) is great fun – it’s not only an interesting premise, but one that is delivered with confidence. Taylor has done an outstanding job in crafting some interesting situations backed up by great characters in Bob and his copies. It’s fun, enjoyable, interesting, and the pacing is great – this is one novel I was thrilled to stumble across. And lets not forget the narration of the audio version by Ray Porter, managing to bring to life Bob and all his copies in fun and different ways. Highly recommended.