Book Review: We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of Bobiverse
Publisher: Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency (April 14, 2017)
Length: 308 pages
Every time I go to Audible my account page is always bombarding my recommended list with this one, and well, it’s hard not to be curious when the book’s page is filled with literally tens of thousands of five star reviews. I figured it was high time to find out what all the fuss was about, and am I glad I did! For those of you who have already been initiated into We Are Legion (We Are Bob) fan club, I beg your forgiveness for being skeptical at first, but can you blame me? This whole time, I’d been going on what was written in the arguably bland and generic publisher description, which—I have to stress—is not a good reflection of the story AT ALL. Trust me, this book is so much more.
Meet Bob Johansson, who has just sold off his software company and is looking to take his new fortune to a service offering their clients the option to cryogenically freeze themselves in the event of their deaths. You can probably guess where this is headed. Sure enough, while enjoying his new life of freedom and leisure at a convention in Las Vegas, Bob gets distracted while crossing the street and—BAM! Pain and blackness is the last thing he remembers before waking up more than a century later to discover that he is now an artificial intelligence created from a brain scan of his consciousness. The country has turned into a theocracy which has declared that replicants like Bob are without rights. He is also now the property of a government program developing a self-replicating interstellar von Neumann probe with the goal of exploring the galaxy. If all goes well, Bob will be uploaded into the probe and sent on journey into space to look for habitable planets.
Unfortunately, the mission will be dangerous. Other nations have the same idea and are all in competition with each other, and indeed a large chunk of the book involves Bob’s run-ins with his Brazilian replicant counterpart who is following the same directive from his handlers. As Bob travels deeper into space, he also begins to realize the need for more processing power, leading him to clone himself multiple times in order to distribute all his responsibilities. And thus, we end up with a “legion” of Bobs, each one going about their own way and chronicling their own adventures in deep space.
This is sci-fi done in a way I’ve never really seen before. While the tone of the narrative is familiar, with its snarky humor and heavy infusion of geek pop culture jokes, the story and the characters and the worlds feel different and fresh. Like a funnier, more action-oriented version of The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet, it is presented in a format that feels almost episodic and digressive, but I was surprised to find I didn’t mind the divergent plotlines too much. Mostly, this was because of how fun it was to follow all the “Bobs”. Dennis E. Taylor has turned what could have been a lonely tale about a solo space explorer into an uproariously entertaining experience filled with many vibrant and unique personalities. The characters in this book are all one person—but they are also not. The story actually makes it a point to emphasize that the Bobs are distinct individuals, each possessing different aspects of the original.
The plot was also very clever and dynamic. Admittedly, I didn’t really care for the first few chapters, finding Bob aloof, standoffish and unlikeable. Little did I know though, this was intentional set-up for the later parts of the novel. Bob eventually learns some interesting lessons about his identity and his life, which I suppose comes with the territory of interacting with multiple versions of yourself. In fact, despite the tensions involved during the earlier parts of the book involving the development phase of the space probe and Bob’s training, I didn’t feel that things took off until well into the story—right around the same time he started replicating himself, which shouldn’t be too surprising given how so much of this book’s awesomeness is directly related to the shenanigans of the many Bobs. I won’t ruin it by going into details, but I adored following Riker, Bill, Homer, and all of the others (each iteration of Bob gets to choose their own names, most based on their favorite childhood TV shows and interests growing up int the 90’s) along on their respective adventures.
Consider me a new fan and follower of the Legion of Bob! Having finished this book and seen for myself what it’s all about, I can understand now why the popularity of this book blew up in such a short time. I highly recommend taking a look for yourself, especially if you enjoy space opera or sci-fi comedy that manages to be both smart and funny. I can’t wait to dive into the next book.