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. 

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m still working on my next book.  In the meantime, enjoy this little flash-fiction sci-fi/horror tale, written in the Lovecraftian/Alien vein.]

space station

It is with sadness and trepidation that I present for the first time since the shocking events of May 24th, 2077, the final transmissions between the on-site Tech Specialist and myself during that fateful expedition aboard the A-57 Research Station.

Everyone is pretty familiar with the station’s sad state prior to that day—how it was gradually developing minor flaws and breakdowns in key systems. It was these breakdowns which ultimately led to the Board’s decision to defund the station. Had it not been for the untimely failure of the station’s onboard data transmission system, it would not have been necessary to send a specialist up to the station to manually retrieve its last recorded findings.

The specialist was equipped with standard space exploration suit, a typical array of nano-machine tools and networked data collection devices for such a mission.  It was, all in all, a completely routine assignment, and as his handler I was not expecting to deal with some of the situations which we ultimately confronted. What follows is the transcript of our communications, up to the point at which I lost contact with him:

  “My systems show you’re at the docking bay entrance now. Confirm?”

            “That’s right. Looks like most of the power must be gone from the place—there’s only emergency lighting. There’s a viewport here—I can see the earth. Wave so I can see you.”

            “Heh. Can you open the door?”

            “Roger that.” [Sound of hissing, buzzing as he apparently rewired the door.]

            “Okay, I’m inside now.”

            “What can you see?”

            “Not much. Main corridor seems even darker than the last one, can barely see in here. Looks like it’s… decaying. What the…, is that rust?”

            “No, it couldn’t be—it’s not made of metal. It’s strange that it’s only emergency power—the readings show full energy levels. In any case, the layout says you’re a couple corridors away from the data lab. Go down the main corridor and go left.”

            [Clanking of his magnetic gravity boots on the stations floor.]

            “It’s so damn dark, and—there’s some kind of… goo or something coating the floors. Like oil.”

            “That’s really weird. Might explain the weird auto-transmissions we’ve received. The energy signatures suggested it was overloaded, but I don’t…”

            [Distant crashing and hissing sounds.]

            “What was that? Hang on a minute.”

            [Heavy breathing, more clanking. Sound of hiss as door opens.]

            “I went through this door at the end of the hall. Where should I be now?”

            “You should be in the observation room. Should be a big window.”

            “Well, it’s closed. Emergency light here too, and—[expletive]!”

            [Sound of fighting, then heavy breathing.]

            “What happened?”

            “I just saw a head—it was flying around the room! I—I didn’t know what I was seeing. “

            “A head? A human head!?”

            “No—a, uh, animal or something. Did they run animal experiments up here?”

            “I think so—maybe they forgot to throw out their trash or something.”

            [More clanking, heavy breathing]

            “What would have caused the windows to all seal?”

            “Some kind of emergency warning might have gone off—again, could be tied into why we got those signals.”

            “Too dark—no emergency lights even. I’ve got my flashlight and—whoa!”

            “What happened?”

            “This area’s demagnetized or something—I’m floating.”

            “There should be two doors—try to reach the one on the left.”

            “Roger that.”

            [Long silence, followed by hiss of doors opening and a metallic clang]

            “Ok, this area seems better lit, although it’s… flickering. I can’t, uh, I can’t see the source of it…”

            [Slow clanking of his footsteps. Strange hissing or growling noise heard. A few seconds of silence]

            [Weird scrabbling or scratching sound]

            “Oh, God!”

            “What?”

            [Sound of metal screeching]

            “What’s going on up there?”

            [Heavy breathing.]

            “Answer me, man! What’s happening?”

            (whispered): “Be quiet. They might hear you.”

            [A minute’s silence. Distant scratching or hissing heard. Grunting or yelling; inaudible words, and then a howl.]

            “Are you there?”

            [More hissing and growling, ending in a final, metallic grinding or crunching sound.]

            <SIGNAL LOST>

That was the last of the transmissions received from him. I cannot speculate as to the meaning of his final words. We can only conjecture whether this bizarre and abrupt ending had any connection with the sudden degradation of the station’s orbit, and its furious plunge into the Pacific ocean, many weeks ahead of its scheduled destruction. Most of the station’s wreckage was incinerated of course, but among the few pieces recovered, one unusually large section of its hull survived relatively intact. The research team sent to recover the debris found it had a strange hole torn in it. Obviously, all debris is expected to be badly damaged, but the hole bore the appearance of having been torn deliberately from within.

Perhaps it is only a strange coincidence, but the specialist’s final words lead me to wonder if there is some unknown sentient force at work. In connection with the new reports of deep-sea divers glimpsing bizarre creatures lurking beneath the sea, and the sudden decimation of the whale shark population that has recently occurred in that part of the ocean, it leads me to feel it necessary to urge caution when exploring that region, and I think sending Naval forces to the area is advisable. Some may argue that it seems unlikely anything dangerous may lurk down there, but while it is certainly true that the darkest depths of the sea are very inhospitable to life, I contend that something which had once resided in the blackness of space itself could easily survive the extreme conditions of the ocean floor.

THE END

 Like this story? Then maybe you’d enjoy my book of similar horror-themed short stories and poems.

Well, we heard the big guns roar behind the battle line;

Every member of the Corps, by our officer’s design,

Affixed his bayonet to his trusty laser gun.

The order, as of yet, had not come to anyone,

But we knew we’d have to charge at the foemen’s barricade,

So, in battle armor large, in a phalanx we arrayed.

Our satellites looked down at the enemy’s artillery

Which was set up in a town that our cavalry would pillory.

The UAV’s report went directly to the Colonel

(Who was resting in the Fort, with an injury internal)

The plan that he devised had been centuries rehearsed,

It would have been recognized by Napoleon the First.

But for every gee-whiz gadget, and with all of our  technology—

The upper management has yet to send us an apology.

The strategies they made were completely obsolete

And so our whole brigade met a horrible defeat.

All our battle droids broke ranks, and we knew our fate was sealed–

So we took our hover tanks and retired from the field.

(more…)