Wednesday, June 13, 2018

REVIEW: We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (audiobook) by Dennis E. Taylor, narrated by Ray Porter

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) is science fiction. It's the first book in a series.

Review:

Bob just sold his successful tech company and is massively rich. One of the first things he does with his newfound wealth is sign up to have his head cryogenically frozen upon his death. Not long after that, he's killed in an accident...and wakes up more than 100 years later as an AI. He is now property, and he's been selected as one of four candidates for the job of exploring and colonizing space for FAITH, the government that owns him. It's a good thing that Bob views this as his dream job. First, however, he has to beat the other three candidates, keep from going crazy like so many other AIs in the past, and avoid being destroyed by one of the many groups that don't want this project to succeed. Although Bob does make it into space, it's a rockier beginning than he expects.

I can't remember if I bought this on sale or if I used an Audible credit, but, either way, it was a waste. I only managed to finish it in a reasonable amount of time because of Ray Porter's excellent narration. He made the lengthy technical explanations slightly more bearable. His range of female voices seems to be pretty limited (I think this is the third audiobook he's narrated that I've listened to), but since none of the prominent characters were female and there were maybe only three female characters with speaking roles, that wasn't really an issue here.

I picked this up because I like books with prominent AI characters. Bob was technically an AI, even though he'd started off as a human. For me, the best part of the book was the period between when Bob woke up as an AI and when he was launched into space. I enjoyed reading about him adapting to his new life and skills, even as I rolled my eyes a bit at how easily everything came to him.

The first part of Bob's life in space, before he started replicating himself, was tolerable, but not great. I wasn't a fan of Bob's decision to build a VR environment for himself. Taylor's reasoning for it sounded okay (AI craziness is at least in part caused by sensory deprivation, because the human minds the AIs are built from expect sensory input they aren't getting), but I didn't want to read about some guy living in his magical environment that he could change at will. I vastly preferred it when Bob was housed in a very nonhuman body that was little more than a camera and some manipulators.

When Bob began populating his environment with animals, including a beloved cat from back when he'd still been human, I began to worry that he'd start recreating people he'd known and loved when he was alive. My biggest fear was that he'd recreate his ex-girlfriend. I was surprised and relieved that it never once crossed Bob's mind to do any of this.

After Bob found a stopping point and began replicating himself, the story branched a bit and should have become more interesting. Instead, it became more tedious and considerably less focused.

Each Bob renamed himself in an effort to make things less confusing, and the book followed multiple Bob POVs. I did my best to keep count, and by the end the total Bob count was 30 and the total number of Bobs who got to be POV characters was up to 9 or 10. This was one of the few aspects where I regretted the audiobook format a bit, since the different Bob POVs were briefly identified at the beginning of a section/chapter and were often difficult to tell apart if I missed hearing Porter say their names. Although each Bob viewed the other Bobs as having radically different personalities, the personality differences weren't as noticeable in the different POV sections.

One of the Bobs (Bill) opted to stay in one place and act as a Bob factory, tech researcher, and communication center. One set of Bobs headed back to Earth to see how things were going and whether there was even any point in looking for habitable planets anymore. Most of the other Bobs went in different directions and began exploring - some of what they found tied in with the storyline involving Earth, some of it led to action scenes involving an enemy AI, and some of it had nothing to do with anything as far as I could tell. Probably setup for the next book.

The discovery of the Deltans, intelligent but low-tech beings on one of the Bob-discovered planets, fit into the last category. Sadly, I found it to be more interesting than the primary storyline involving the fate of humanity, even as Bob's actions and plans made me more and more uncomfortable.

Bob (original Bob) discovered the Deltans and, at first, decided just to watch them. He gradually became more involved, to the point that he considered culling one of the Deltans' natural enemies, the gorilloids, in order to make the Deltans' lives easier. Another Bob disapproved of this, although I got the impression that his disapproval was based more on his dislike of making the Deltans dependent on the Bobs and less on any qualms about genocide. Original Bob spent a lot of time studying the Deltans and almost no time studying the gorilloids. I wasn't as willing as he was to discount the possibility that the gorilloids were also sentient and sapient beings.

We Are Legion (We Are Bob)'s biggest problem was that it was boring. Taylor included a massive amount of technical detail, and I really just did not care. I say this as someone who largely enjoyed the scientific explanations and technical details in Andy Weir's The Martian.

It probably didn't help that I couldn't bring myself to care about the various Bobs and their storylines, either. The humans in Taylor's vision of the future were largely annoying and seemed determined to literally argue themselves to death. Rather than talk to each other, share knowledge and resources, and generally help each other out, they preferred to argue about who got to evacuate first and then refused to so much as share a planet. As for the Bobs, I never became very attached to any of them and didn't even feel a twinge when any of them died. After all, the Bobs themselves barely mourned each other, and they could always just make new ones, even though the personalities wouldn't be the same.

Early on, Bob worried about losing his humanity and was reassured that he was still human when he regained his ability to grieve for the family members of his who'd long since died. Honestly, though, he should have continued to worry, because that moment of grief seemed to be his first and last deeply felt emotion in the entire book.

I don't currently plan on continuing this series. I'm not sure I could take another book filled with dozens of iterations of Bob, even with Ray Porter narrating it.

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