Book Review: “We Are Legion (We Are Bob)” (Bobiverse Book 1) by Dennis E. Taylor

bobI don’t often review widely-read books, as you may have noticed. I like seeking out hidden indie gems. This book has over 2000 reviews on Amazon, so it’s not really hidden. But it came recommended to me by not one, but two friends whose tastes run along the same lines as my own, so I had to give it a try. And am I ever glad I did.

The titular “Bob” is Bob Johansson, a software developer and science-fiction fan who signs up to have his brain preserved after his death, to be revived in some distant future. He little expects that a freak accident will cause that death shortly after he does so.

Bob wakes up in the distant future to find himself the subject of a study conducted under the auspices of a religious extremist government called FAITH. The ultimate objective of the operation is to place one of the revived minds aboard a deep-space probe, to be sent out to explore the galaxy. While Bob only gets limited information from the scientists conducting the operation, it soon becomes clear that political tensions on Earth—both within FAITH and elsewhere—are reaching a boiling point, and Bob is fortunate to have his mind sent off into the cosmos just as disaster strikes and full-scale nuclear war erupts.

From there, Bob begins creating a virtual reality interface for himself, just to feel more human, as well as countless “copies” of his mind, using the powerful autofactories at his disposal to deploy more “Bobs” to other parts of the galaxy.

The Bobs begin to develop their own names and personalities, and become different characters in their own right. Some return to Earth, to help what remains of humanity recover from the aftermath of the war, while others venture to new worlds, and encounter new forms of life, including one, the Deltans, who resemble primitive humans in ways that lead to some of the Bobs taking them under their care.

This book is a marvelous exercise in hard sci-fi—Mr. Taylor clearly did his research on every aspect, from space stations to interstellar travel to artificial intelligences. The Bobs make a few derisive references to “hand-waving about nanomachines” in sci-fi, which made me smile since I have been guilty of just that. While obviously any science-fiction work is bound to have some unexplained elements—it has to, otherwise it wouldn’t be fiction—the amount of research and scientific knowledge that went into We Are Legion is impressive.

But despite the technological elements, and the occasionally very abstract scenes where Bob exists as a consciousness with no apparent physical form, the book is written with a light, relatable touch. The tone is humorous, and all the Bobs share a sarcastic sense of humor, a penchant for references to classic sci-fi, and a fundamentally good nature.

I do have a few small criticisms. There is a brief period in the book, when Bob is first sent out into the universe, where things are so abstract it was hard for me to visualize what was happening. But this ends quickly when Bob creates the VR interface.

The religious fanatic government mentioned in the early chapters felt a bit over the top to me, but just as I was feeling this, Bob headed into space, and it became a relatively small part of the plot.

The lack of a large cast of characters might be a problem for some readers. Indeed, there’s really only one true “character”, albeit with multiple versions. For me, this worked–more on that shortly–but I can see that if you don’t like the basic Bob character, the whole book would be less appealing. It’s pretty much all Bob, all the time.

Finally, the ending felt a little abrupt–but then, it’s only the first installment in a series, so leaving the reader wanting more is really a good thing. There are certainly plenty of interesting themes here.

We Are Legion touches on a number of sensitive matters like politics, religion and philosophy. From the fundamentalist rulers of the former United States, to the struggles of humans in the post-war fight for resources, to the arguments among the Deltans on a distant world, the book explores both how political discord occurs and how it can be resolved. There are elements of satire here, but only rarely does it get too heavy-handed.

Religion too is handled in a very interesting way, quite apart from the FAITH government. By the end of the book, one of the Bobs is essentially playing God to an alien race. Again, Taylor is subtle about it, but the theological and philosophical ideas this raises are absolutely fascinating. It reminded me a little of Arthur C. Clarke’s classic, Childhood’s End.

But what I liked most of all is how the book plays with the concept of “self”—as I mentioned, most of the major characters are all copies of the original Bob, but they each evolve in distinct ways. The more senior “Bobs” liken this to having children, and that might be true. What it reminded me of was the experience of writing—as a writer, you create these characters who all have little facets of yourself in them. At least, that’s how it is for me. I can recognize aspects of me in every character I write, even the bad ones or the ones I consciously based on other people. 

This examination of multiple aspects of the same personality by spreading it across different characters is really interesting to me. It reminded me of the different incarnations of the Nameless One in Planescape: Torment. And I think you all know what high praise that is, coming from me.

I can’t say too much more without spoiling major plot points, but you get the idea by now: this is a really fun science-fiction novel, and I recommend it. It’s the first in a series, and I am looking forward to reading the next one. 


  1. Ugh, this is one of those occasions when I have to disagree because “…but I can see that if you don’t like the basic Bob character, the whole book would be less appealing. It’s pretty much all Bob, all the time.”

    I wasn’t that impressed with the science either. The human brain has been described as the equivalent of 17 /billion/ computers. Quantum mechanics may someday make it possible to replicate those 17 billions computers, and it might make sense to send such a construct out into the void, to ‘go where no man has gone before’, but that construct would not be the original ‘Bob’. At best it would be a duplicate of what Bob was at the moment of his death. Neural networks may make it possible for a digital construct to learn and change, but feeling and leaps of intuition require the interaction of electronic impulses and a massive cornucopia of hormones in a bewildering series of combinations…in humans. How would you replicate that in what amounts to an AI?

    So no, I don’t think Bob is even possible much less plausible. And I really, really disliked the character. 🙁

    1. Yeah, I agree–sometimes AI Bob did behave in very non-AI and human-like ways. You’re right; as soon as you think about it, it’s clear the whole thing couldn’t happen. As you say, most likely the AI would cease to be remotely recognizable as the “Bob” personality almost as soon as it came into existence.

      1. Pretty much, yeah. Anything ‘new’ would have to be learned and dealt with in ways that the historical Bob could not have imagined.

        Apologies for ranting but I get really annoyed when scifi writers create AI characters that ‘feel’. I particular hate AI characters that are capable of falling in ‘lust’ and in ‘love’… -grinds teeth- I’ve read a couple of those. They were remarkably popular too. 🙁

        1. No need to apologize; I love to know people’s thoughts on issues like this. I know just what you mean, although I suppose I’ve become used to AIs with human motivations simply because there are so many of them in fiction.

          It would be tough to write a convincing one, since we humans can’t help seeing the world through human eyes. I’m trying to think of good examples of fictional AIs… HAL from 2001, maybe?

          P.S. Thanks for commenting on this. People almost never go back and respond to older posts, so it’s a real treat! 🙂

          1. Yes! HAL is a good example. The perspective is completely different. I sometimes think that logic is this thin veneer that homo sapiens uses to cover up choices if doesn’t understand, choices that spring from the ‘gut’ rather than the head. If an AI could somehow have a layer of wetware superimposed over the top of the logic, it would be the exact opposite of a human. 🙂

            As for commenting, I couldn’t resist. 🙂

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