First Line: “So… You’ll cut my head off.”
Sum It Up In One Sentence: Bob Johansson died but wakes 100 years in the future to be used as an AI in a probe to find habitable planets, and while Bob (and the Bobs he makes) do the job, they have some ideas of their own about how.
. . . . .
My family has made the move south to the Raleigh/Durham area of North Carolina, also known as The Triangle. I’ll miss certain parts of the Washington D.C. area, but even after eight and a half years there, it was still hard to meet people, particularly those with similar, shall we say, nerdy, interests. Sure, there was Meetup, the site where I met my mom friends, but there weren’t many sci-fi/fantasy groups within a 15-mile radius of my suburb. And while there were book clubs, none of them were reading what I wanted to read. So, imagine my excitement when I find an established Sci-Fi and Fantasy book club right in our area of the Triangle that alternated between the genres each month. I instantly joined and RSVP’d to the next month’s meetup, even if it was the sci-fi month. If you’ve read this site before, you’ll notice I lean toward fantasy, but I was eager to meet people and the premise for this book actually caught my interest. But, could it keep it?
Bob Johanson gets himself killed after just having sold his tech company for a fortune. Luckily, he just paid a company to cryogenically freeze his head (think Futurama) once medical advancements can be made to cure him (and regrow a body). When he wakes, 100 years later, he finds himself without a body or a head, but rather as a consciousness within a program. The Earth is in the middle of a new space race, this time to find habitable planets outside our Solar System. Bob will be the AI to pilot the FAITH probe throughout space. But the world has changed in 100 years, the country lines have been redrawn, and not everyone is friendly. Bob makes it out to space, explores planets, and creates more Bobs to get the job done faster and more efficiently. Eventually, we follow many Bobs throughout the galaxies. But they aren’t the only ones out there.
Nothing is particularly surprising or shocking in this plot. We follow Original Bob through his training, exit from Earth, and exploration of space. We eventually follow a few of the other Bobs that are made using the 3D printer technology. We get updates about Earth and they do find some interesting planets. They also have run-ins with some of the other countries’ probes, but nothing really felt riveting to me. I kept reading, but I wonder if it was just because I was in a book club, and I really wanted to contribute to the discussion. The idea, in general, is fascinating, I just think it lacked a little in the execution.
Technically, there is just one main character, Bob. But, he makes copies of his programming and places them into new, and often updated probes. Somehow, these copies have varying personalities. Original Bob, who goes by Bob, muses that they are all variations of the Bob that lived 100 years ago, perhaps pulling from differing parts of his personality. All of this, plus making replicas of himself, makes Bob have an existential crisis, contemplating if he would still be considered a person with a soul. The other Bobs, who change their names to make them easier to tell apart, don’t seem to share this conundrum. Each new Bob uses a separate VR visual for their probe to make things more “life-like.”
These small details seemed to be the only way to tell the characters apart. While after their initial creation they talk about how so-and-so is very different or moodier or whatever, when it switches to their point of view in a later chapter, I don’t sense it. They all make the same cheesy jokes, use random and sometimes obscure sci-fi references, and deal with situations almost identically. In this situation, even if it wasn’t intentional by the author, it at least works. They are supposed to be the same program after all. Unfortunately, I often found that same character boring. There just wasn’t anything to grasp onto. There were the occasional glimmers of wit, but when you add in the problem of the writing style, it just felt too robotic.
I like it when an author uses detailed descriptions, but this book seemed to go either too far over the mark or just not enough. When it came to space travel, it was like the author did a lot of research or has such a love of space that he wanted to cram as much in as possible. I get that the Bobs have libraries full of the world’s information within their program. And he has all the time in the universe to read through it. And yes, the Bob back 100 years ago was an engineer, but I found it grating how he knew everything about space travel and star systems and planetary makeup. And he told us all the details. About each planet he visited. It just felt like too much information.
And then there were the lazy moments with not enough imagination or detail. There are a few points in the novel where he talks about something on Earth. In one such instance, while talking about a computer room, he says, “Cables, blinking lights, air-conditioning, rack-mounted computers. I guess rack-mounting was still the most efficient way to organize computers, even with a hundred years to improve things.” No. If they can bring back a person’s mind by scanning a thawed brain, they would have invented better computers. Someone in my book club mentioned he did the same thing about a light switch. It just seems like a lack of creativity. Either come up with something new or leave it out.
Meh. That’s the best word I can think of to describe my feelings toward this book. An interesting concept and different enough to not be terrible, but not imaginative enough to be good. The writing was dull in some spots and dense in others. There wasn’t an easy flow while reading since the timeline and Bobs jumped around through space, and it was often hard to keep track. It seemed like my book club was split. Some felt the same as I did, while others seemed to enjoy it enough to continue with the series (which they all agreed the second book was better). Without giving away any details about the planets, there were some things on that front that kept me going. But only just enough. I didn’t hate this book, but I didn’t really like it either. I won’t be picking up the next in the series, but I don’t regret reading this one.
5 out of 10
Author: Dennis E. Taylor
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Format Read: Kindle
Category(s): Science Fiction, Space Opera
Series(?): Bobiverse (Book 1 of 3)