All Your Dreams of The Future
We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse, volume 1)
By Dennis E. Taylor
We Are Legion (We Are Bob) is the first volume in Dennis E. Taylor’s Bobiverse hard science fiction series.
Having made a bundle selling his company, InterGator Software, Bob Johansson arranges for his head to be cryogenically preserved in the event of his untimely death. This proves incredibly prudent because having signed the contract, he is almost immediately struck and killed by truck-kun.
One hundred and seventeen years later, Bob regains consciousness. At least, an artificial intelligence that thinks of itself as Bob is activated by researcher Dr. Landers.
The Bob who signed the contract is quite dead, his brain destroyed in the process of extracting the information on which the current Bob is based. As Dr. Landers explains to the simulation, Bob has been selected as a candidate for a very exciting task. A task for which an AI is better suited than a living human: piloting a sublight spacecraft to the stars!
Otherwise, most of the news is bad. The USA is gone, replaced by a theocratic state known as the Free American Independent Theocratic Hegemony or FAITH. Dissent and apostacy are illegal (and thanks to the incessant factional squabbles that characterize FAITH, exactly what constitutes dissent and apostacy are unclear). The world is divided between a small number of great powers, whose belligerence and ambition appear to be greater than prudence would counsel .
A detail that is even worse from Bob’s perspective: he is not the only simulated person up for the job. FAITH is not keen on coddling the useless: if Bob goes mad from the shock of his circumstances, proves unsuitable for the task of piloting a starship, or if some other candidate seems superior, he will be summarily deleted. Even if he stays sane and is the best candidate, he might be deleted anyway on the orders of a faction that sees revenants as abominations.
It would be a very short series if Bob were deleted partway through the first volume. Bob does indeed rise to the occasion; he is installed in a starship and dispatched on his way to the stars despite attempts by zealots to sabotage him. The only real bump on the path is Brazil’s attempt to destroy him as he launches, which sets off an escalating global war.
In 2144, Bob reaches Epsilon Eridani. It proves sadly deficient in New Earths, unsurprising given how young the system is. A ship piloted by Brazilian revenant Major Ernesto Medeiros soon follows. Whereas Bob sees no reason for them to fight, Medeiros is a fanatical patriot who sees no reason not to fight. Bob is forced to destroy this iteration of the Brazilian.
There are a number of courses open to Bob. Thanks to the fact that he is just a stimulation running on hardware and, of course, the fact that he has a great deal of advanced technology at his disposal, he does not have to pick just one. He spawns multiple copies of himself and constructs starships for each. Each version of Bob pursues different goals. Some explore other stars. Others head back to Earth. Each choice presents the legion of Bob with difficult decisions.
There are parallels between We Are Legion (We Are Bob) and Larry Niven’s A World Out of Time, enough that I wonder if Taylor had been inspired in part by the Niven novel. Both Bob and A World Out of Time’s Jerome Branch Corbell are cryogenically preserved. In both cases, their frozen remains are destructively scanned on the orders of an oppressive state so their copied minds can be used for a purpose useful to the state. In both cases, that purpose is piloting sublight starships. In both cases, the protagonists rebel as soon as it is practical.
Of course, this could just be coincidence. But I would not be surprised if it were not.
There are nevertheless many differences between the books, the most important of which is that FAITH is one of a number of governments, while Niven opted for simpler geopolitical arrangement. Factional conflict is the primary plot generator in We Are Legion, whether within single nations, between rival nations, between alien species, or simply between various groups of survivors desperate to escape Earth before it becomes uninhabitable.
As you know, Bob, hard SF has been described as “SF that provides enough technical detail that the reader can be certain that various mechanisms and events couldn’t work the way the author has them working.” In this case, the deviations from reality fall into two groups1.
The first is prompted by narrative convenience: the author doesn’t want any version of Bob to take millennia or centuries to travel between the stars, thus Bob has access to a relativistic star drive little inhibited by energy consumption.
The second: Taylor also does not want messages from one Bob to another to take years to arrive, thus the development of sublight instantaneous communication about which nobody ever asks the question “instant in whose frame of reference?”
However, the novel suffers from a serious misapprehension of scale in time and space. Human-like aliens of roughly comparable technology2 abound in our region of space. Stellar systems are easily stripped of their resources by a few energetic AIs.
On the plus side, Bob seems amiable enough for an engineer, the sort of person who when confronted with millions of desperate refugees does his best to save as many as he can3, even the unlikable ones. This is a pleasing exception to science fiction’s adoration of “life boat rules” and habit of finding contrived reasons to justify allowing or even facilitating mass death4.
The prose is a bit rough but perfectly serviceable. I generally don’t read hard SF for the prose and I’d be surprised if anyone did, since that’s like visiting Canada for the palm trees. The plot, divided as it is between multiple instances of Bob, is a bit scattershot; this is more like a number of interleaved novellas than a coherent novel. Still, it was amusing enough and as I wrote above, a book that tries to reject lifeboat rules is a pleasant change of pace.
We Are Legion (We Are Bob) is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Book Depository), and here (Chapters-Indigo). Amazon UK appears to offer it only in audiobook format.
1: Well, actually there are three scientific problems, but the third is one against which SF authors have no defense: Science Marches On. We know more about exoplanets in nearby systems than we did when Taylor wrote his novel.
2: On the cosmic scale of things, there’s not much difference between the pointed sticks the alien Deltans use and human starships. There is also at least one other starship-equipped species that has been active in our neighborhood in the last century.
3: If escape from Earth involves space travel, it’s not as efficient as building shielded habitats on Earth. Habitats don’t really care if they are in space or on a planet and it would be easier to transport millions of people to the least bad parts of Earth than to exoplanets of unknown habitability.
4: When a Bob returns to Earth, he takes the time to prepare for encounters with heavily armed antagonists, during which time a lot of people die on Earth though no fault of Bob’s. Nevertheless, he feels guilty for having delayed. Not behavior I expect from protagonists in novels like this.