We Are Legion (We Are Bob)

August 17, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

bobWe Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor

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I blame Andy Weir for We Are Legion (We Are Bob). I get the feeling Taylor read Weir’s book, thought, Hey, I’m a bit of a smartass too, and I know science! and then started work on this book. Somehow, Taylor doesn’t quite bring the level of charm to the story that Weir did, making the book a little less than it could have been.

Bob is our central character. The story begins with him in the early 21st century, shortly after selling his tech company for a ridiculous amount of money. His first stop after depositing the check is a cryogenics lab, which turns out to be a good decision, since that same day, he’s struck by a car and killed. One hundred years later, he wakes to find himself a disembodied computer program tasked with taking command of a spacecraft with self-replicating abilities so he can travel the galaxy looking for worlds to where the human race can emigrate. In true science fiction form, humans have destroyed the planet through greed, politics, and self-interest, so it’s time to move on.

It’s no secret that I think Weir’s book, as entertaining as it is, is poorly written. Still, he captures the reader’s attention with the premise, and keeps the reader engaged by creating a likeable character in Mark Watney. Bob? Not so much. His smartassery gets tiresome, because everything is the potential for a joke in his world. Plus, the irreverence of Watney in The Martian is easier to take, because Weir has us invested in Watney’s survival, while in We Are Legion, Taylor keeps the focus all over the place. At first it’s Bob we’re supposed to be concerned about, but then it’s the human race, and then later still, it’s … well, maybe I shouldn’t spoil it. Just know that he splits the reader’s concerns even more as the story progresses.

Bob is also extremely good at everything he needs to do. He doesn’t suffer many setbacks in his ordeals, and as he reminds us time and again, he’s essentially immortal, so the stakes never seem very high. Bob isn’t a relateable character, despite his Everyman status. At one point in the story, I thought maybe I was supposed to relate more to the human survivors, but this isn’t really their story. We Are Legion is all about Bob and what he can do, and all of his corny, stupid jokes.

I wouldn’t think to compare this book to Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time, but I read them back-to-back, and they’re both stories of human survival and space exploration. They’re not really the same class of book, but it’s hard to ignore the similarities, and it’s hard not to see Children of Time as the better book. It isn’t because it handles its theme better, though; it’s more that Tchaikovsky recognizes the need for good characters to drive his story, and that he pays attention to the human drama. We Are Legion focuses on one character, and doesn’t seem to care about the real people that exist outside of Bob.

Taylor touches on a theme when he explains what drove humans to the brink of extinction, but it’s just there to explain the need to escape the planet. It comes up a few times later in the narrative, but for the most part, it’s just there as a motivating factor, and doesn’t recur in the story. Imagine if The Handmaid’s Tale reduced its entire story down to one chapter, and made the focus of the book the afterword set hundreds of years in the future, and you’ll have an idea of how Taylor handles this point. It should have been the focus of an entire novel by itself, but it’s not really about Bob, so we just get a Cliff’s Notes version instead, and even then, it comes across as ham-fisted.

The book starts off strong, but then it peters out around the middle. By then, I had resolved that I wasn’t going to read anything else in the series, but I’ll be damned if Taylor didn’t pick up the story again as it neared the end. It wasn’t enough for me to raise my rating above three stars (I had anticipated giving it two up until then), but it was enough for me to pick up For We Are Many as soon as I finished it. We’ll see if it’s enough to keep me around for book three.

In the end, We Are Legion feels amateurish. The style is too colloquial and too irreverent, and Bob’s personality is too off-putting to take him too seriously. It feels off in some way I can’t describe, but it definitely affects how I feel about the book. I’m not sure I would recommend it (I have to see if the next book makes the fumblings of this one worthwhile), because by itself, it’s just not that great. Folks who like it seem to really like it, but they don’t seem to find Bob as grating as I do. For me, the book is just a solid “Eh”.

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