We Are Legion We Are Bob by Dennis E. Taylor

“At one time, we thought that the way life came together was almost completely random, only needing an energy gradient to get going. But as we’ve moved into the information age, we’ve come to realize that life is more about information than energy. Fire has most of the characteristics of life. It eats, it grows, it reproduces. But fire retains no information. It doesn’t learn; it doesn’t adapt. The five millionth fire started by lightning will behave just like the first. But the five hundredth bacterial division will not be like the first one, especially if there is environmental pressure. That’s DNA. And RNA. That’s life. …” – We Are Legion We Are Bob

Bob Johansson never expected to be a millionaire. So when he sells his unexpectedly successful software company to a larger corporation for a staggering amount of money, Bob decides to make a “canny investment in his future”. He buys a cryogenic pod. Unfortunately, before Bob can enjoy his newfound wealth, he is hit by a car and instantly killed.

However, as per his will, Bob is placed in cryogenic suspension. Several hundred years later, he is reincarnated – as a computer. Bob is now a sentient super-computer, created to explore the universe on behalf of humanity. Bob will be sent out into the galaxy as a Von Neumann probe, a theoretical self-replicating machine. Bob has the capability to build exact clones of himself, complete with his memories and personality. This allows for an exponential growth in the number of Bobs, capable of exploring an infinite universe, as well as making the mission to explore the solar system a little bit less lonely. Unfortunately, the other nations of Earth have launched four identical Von Neumann probes, all super computer simulations of long dead humans, and at least one fixated on destroying the Bobs and everything they represent. And the other probes may not be the Bobs’ biggest concern…

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We Are Legion We Are Bob is unusual in that it combines the fast-paced action and humor of the best sci-fi adventures with the big ideas and philosophical questions present in the greatest works of science fiction. As new Bobs are created they choose their own names and identities to reflect specific facets of Bob’s personality and interests, from the cartoon character Homer Simpson to the serious William Riker, who exists in a perpetually unchanging digital simulation of the bridge of the USS Enterprise. While the Bobs have their fun living out all their favorite movies, TV shows, and books, they also have to deal with the question of whether any of them can really claim to be Bob, or if part of what made them human died hundreds of years before. And if that isn’t enough to contend with the Bobs also have to face down numerous threats to their very existence and to the human race, with no advantages save sheer ingenuity. In this way the three books of the Bobiverse trilogy resemble Andy Weir’s The Martian (see our review here), Bob frequently using the power of engineering and human creativity to turn back everything the universe throws against him. As Bob says, “Yeah, they still make duct tape. And it still holds the universe together.” With the whole universe to explore and a little determination, and a lot of duct tape, by his side, what could possibly go wrong?

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

“There were two sides fighting—that was true enough—but they weren’t the inner planets versus the Belters. They were the people who thought it was a good idea to kill people who looked or acted differently against the people who didn’t.” – Leviathan Wakes

The year is 2350 and humanity has colonized the solar system. Mars was first to be colonized, but soon the Martian colonies rebelled against Earth. The war for Martian independence might have raged for years, except that Martian Solomon Epstein invented a nuclear fusion drive efficient enough to put the rest of the solar system within reach. The war was put on hold, both sides agreeing to peace so they could colonize the outer planets together. Now, the solar system is divided into three groups. The United Nations controls Earth, Mars is governed by the Martian Congressional Republic, and the colonies of “the Belt” are governed by a dysfunctional system of private police agencies, paid primarily by Earth to enforce order. All three are distrustful of each other, and the smallest spark could ignite the solar system into war.

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James Holden never expected to be crewing on a cargo ship in the outer belt, but with a dishonorable discharge from the UN navy on his record there aren’t many jobs available. Every crew member on the Canterbury, an ice hauler responsible for collecting and transporting orbital ice chunks from Saturn’s rings to Belt colonies where they can be melted down for fresh water, is there either because of incompetence or infamy. So when the Canterbury picks up a mysterious distress signal from a nearby ship, Holden is terrified to realize that he and the rest of the crew may well have stumbled onto the heart of a dangerous conspiracy that threatens to destabilize the balance of power in the solar system.

Detective Josephus Miller has seen a lot of strange things during his time as an agent for Star Helix, a private police company on Ceres station. The day he receives the case of Juliette Andromeda Mao, a runaway heiress from a rich Earth family, he doesn’t think much of it. When he starts investigating however, he begins to suspect that the Maos might be involved in something that extends far beyond Earth, and the disappearance of their daughter might be a harbinger of far worse things to come.

The Expanse is a thrilling space opera worth reading just for the suspense and sense of adventure it offers, but what makes it stand out are the characters. While many high stakes sci-fi books sacrifice character development for action, the characters in The Expanse are as unique as they are compelling. From the brilliant engineer Naomi Nagata, to the quiet, gigantic, and heavily armed Amos Burton, to the sardonic and lonely detective Miller, the characters make the story seem real and dangerous in every sense. After only the first few pages, you’ll find yourself terrified on the character’s behalf as they face down one perilous new discovery after another.

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The Expanse has also been developed into an excellent TV show by SyFy.

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