Dennis E. Taylor
Heaven’s Rivers by Dennis E. Taylor
For most of the novel, this was a book in search of a plot. The technical overarching plot was the search for Bender who has been missing for quite a while. The more interesting subplot focused on a group of Bobs who call themselves Starfleet and have decided to force the other Bobs to stop interacting with biologicals. The first plot didn’t work much at all until the very end of the novel and the second was interesting but not interesting enough to float a book this length.
And that is truly the biggest problem with the novel. It was way too long and badly in need of an editor who would tell the author he needed to cut one-third of the material to make this more readable. The whole middle of the novel bogged down in endless exploration of Heaven’s River—a Ringworld-derived-idea on which trillions of aliens could eventually live. There was just too much exploration and not enough finding Bender. This part of the plot picks up quite a bit when Bender is found and has to be rescued, but it was terribly tedious getting to that point.
The Starfleet plotline was better. There are thousands of Bobs over some twenty-five generations and many of them just don’t think like Bob anymore. Bob is an intensely libertarian mindset who just doesn’t like others telling him what to do. So what do you do when you get a couple of thousand Bobs trying to dictate actions to the others? It’s an interesting problem and was the only reason I kept reading long enough to start liking the main storyline again.
After a lot of contemplation, I’ve decided I like this book more than I dislike it, but I’m hoping Taylor writes something new before returning to the Bobiverse.
We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor
This book is a based on a unique (at least to my experience) idea, which is a wonderful thing to discover in SF or any genre. Bob dies in the twenty-first century just after having arranged to have his body frozen, gambling that medical science in the future will be able to fix whatever killed him. Unfortunately for Bob, the government of the future declares that corpsickles are property with no rights. Bob’s brain has been scanned and transformed into a form of AI that is in competition with other AIs to be in charge of an interstellar space probe. If he loses the competition he will be shut down and his “life”, such as it is, will be over. This was by far the most interesting part of the novel. I loved every page and couldn’t wait to read the next one.
After Bob wins the competition and escapes the solar system, the book slowed down a little. It stayed interesting, but not at the breakneck pace of the first portion. Bob clones himself, using 3D printers to make new probes and lots of other equipment. He also has to deal with the problem of competing probes from other nations on earth. And ultimately he has to deal with the survivors on our home planet after it destroys itself in a nuclear war.
This is a great book. No two Bobs share precisely the same personality and it’s fun to watch how each quirky new AI both is and isn’t the Bob we met in chapter one. They have a lot of interesting problems to deal with as well. Overall the tone of the book is light and sarcastic and it is loads of fun.
For We Are Many by Dennis E. Taylor
Life in the “Bobiverse” continues to get more complicated as Taylor takes us through several developing storylines. One Bob is falling in love with a flesh-and-blood human. The original Bob has become obsessively involved with a primitive alien civilization that he is trying to help survive. Others are exploring the galaxy while still more are trying to get the last few million humans off earth and onto colonies. But mostly, the Bobs are trying to figure out how to stop the Others—a genocidal species busy harvesting every solar system they come across.
This book wasn’t quite as fresh as We Are Legion, but the continuing development of the various storylines held my attention. Taylor is particularly adept at showing the variations between the different Bobs and how painful it is for them to watch their biological friends age while they don’t. He also does a beautiful job of depicting the older Bobs growing need to be something more than a complex computer program.
This continues to be an intriguing series. I’ve never read anything quite like it.
All These Worlds by Dennis E. Taylor
The many problems of the Bobiverse come to a conclusion in this third volume of a very special series. We have revolutions, conflicts between states, genocidal and very hungry aliens, and a couple of remarkably touching human moments from iterations of a man who died centuries earlier but continues to exist as a very sophisticated AI.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this series is Taylor’s intrinsic understanding that we are all to some extent products of our environment and our experiences. The many Bobs are all distinct and, despite the protests of many within the series, all remarkably human.
If you’re looking for a very different kind of science fiction, you should enter the Bobiverse, but start at the beginning with We are Legion (We Are Bob).
Other Titles in Alpha Order
A Change of Plans by Dennis E. Taylor
As earth collapses in an environmental catastrophe, the last hope of humanity is a small fleet of colonizer ships which are dropping off groups of humans to start again on new planets. This is the story of what happens when the planet humans are hoping to colonize has suffered a climate-changing catastrophe and is no longer habitable. It’s a tight little story which fans of Taylor should enjoy.
Outland by Dennis E. Taylor
Parallel universes have become a staple of science fiction literature, and in Outland Dennis E. Taylor has made a very good addition to the subgenre. In many ways it starts out like a Robert A. Heinlein novel. A group of college students has discovered a way to open a portal into another universe and immediately start thinking about how they can make money off of it. They realize immediately that they will lose control of their invention if the government, a major corporation, or even their university learns of its existence, so they begin seeking other ways to make money. One of the worlds is suffering from a horrendous green-house-inspired catastrophe, but another appears to be a North America without humans. They adopt the most commonly used strategy among these books and go panning for gold.
Had that been all that Taylor had in mind, this would have been an alright book. College students do not put large amounts of gold up for sale without attracting attention and that attention can lead to much excitement. Fortunately, Taylor had a much better plot in mind. While these college students are exploring their device, the super volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park is preparing to blow. When it does, it immediately changes the whole situation and the college students have to focus on how they are going to survive an extinction level event on our planet and how many people they can save. This plot twist turns an enjoyable book into an intensely exciting one. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
The Singularity Trap by Dennis E. Taylor
This is a remarkable novel with a strange twist on first contact. The aliens arrived well before humanity existed, prepared a “gift” (the Singularity Trap of the title), and left again. The story picks up with the human mining crew who are going to discover the aliens’ parting present.
This is where the story moves into high gear and gets incredibly interesting. The alien gift begins to transform one of the mining crew members and threatens his ability to control his own mind and body. This naturally scares the authorities of his nation and heightens the tensions in a futuristic cold war. There are issues of strategic defense, human rights, and mob mentality to deal with. At the same time there is an extraordinary mystery to be uncovered—what are the aliens, what do they want, and why are messing with our hero’s body?
As we move toward the finale of the novel, our hero must carefully outthink just about every side in the book as he struggles to find a path through the complex future maze that leads to the survival of humanity. This is a thoroughly enjoyable, thought provoking, science fiction novel that took me in directions I never expected to go.
One again, narrator Ray Porter really shines as he brings the cast of this novel to life. He’s one of those narrators who really adds value to the books he reads by making each and every character distinct and vivid.
Roadkill by Dennis E. Taylor
Roadkill felt a little bit thrown together to me. It focuses on a man (and his two friends) who accidentally runs over an invisible alien. Rather than call the authorities or the press, he and his friends start poking around themselves, discover a spaceship with an AI, and quickly work themselves into a position where they are contending with aliens over the future of the human race. Unlike Taylor’s other books, I just couldn’t get into this one.