Bob Johansson has just sold his software company and is looking forward to a life of leisure. There are places to go, books to read, and movies to watch. So it’s a little unfair when he gets himself killed crossing the street.
Bob wakes up a century later to find that corpsicles have been declared to be without rights, and he is now the property of the state. He has been uploaded into computer hardware and is slated to be the controlling AI in an interstellar probe looking for habitable planets. The stakes are high: no less than the first claim to entire worlds. If he declines the honor, he’ll be switched off, and they’ll try again with someone else. If he accepts, he becomes a prime target. There are at least three other countries trying to get their own probes launched first, and they play dirty.
The safest place for Bob is in space, heading away from Earth at top speed. Or so he thinks. Because the universe is full of nasties, and trespassers make them mad – very mad.
***** *** *******
This is a fun read, a hard sci-fi story with a solid chunk of humor and cynicism that is a supremely enjoyable read. The writing style is excellent, flowing well and it works great within the realm of this story which is a multiple first-person account of self-replicating probes multiplying and exploring the galaxy. The style is similar to many other contemporary science fiction authors and it particularly reminded me of John Scalzi, a good thing because he is one of my favorite modern authors. Scalzi’s sarcastic wit is something to behold and Dennis E. Taylor seems to be cut from the same cloth in the story-telling sense anyway. I certainly encourage any Scalzi fan to give this a try.
I liked the central character Bob right from the outset, so when he becomes the essence of the artificial intelligence which controls an interstellar exploration probe I was more than happy to go along for the ride. The landscape of Earth, both geological and political, has changed dramatically over the hundred or so years between Bob’s death and his resurrection in a computer memory core, irreparably so and humanity is strongly motivated to find other options for survival. A number of groups and factions have the same idea of exploring space so Bob has his work cut out just to survive out in space let alone discover any inhabitable planets for humanity to relocate to.
As he goes, Bob is able to replicate himself to create additional probes as well as other more interesting hardware to aid his mission. It’s cool to see each new version of Bob take on it’s own personality, retaining much of their humanity along the way. I’ve not read anything to date that explores this post-physical existence in such a straight-forward and entertaining way. I know this is a reasonably common trope in science fiction, one that is very thought-provoking in the philosophical sense, but the way this book explores the idea is refreshing. It really is very nicely done. Also, there are plentiful references throughout to classic science fiction books and movies which will delight fans of the genre.
Out among the stars, our explorers discover lots of interesting things while searching for key resources which they require to resource their missions. Life is soon discovered and this is where the real highlight of the story is for me. Think Chariots of the Gods and ancient astronauts and you’ll get the basic idea of what goes on. To say much more will possibly introduce spoilers to this review, but I will say that the human-derived artificial intelligence becomes quite involved with a native species, exerting quite a bit of influence. Another nicely executed aspect.
Back at Earth, things are underway to try and get the remains of humanity and other species safely on their way to new homes. But, as one can expect, the human race continually exhibits their less desirable traits and the AI’s have their work cut out just to get people to agree on a plan. This brings me to another of the themes of the book (and a particular favorite of mine given my often general dislike of my own species) which is a commentary of humanity and those things that most intelligent people would agree that we must move beyond to achieve more of our potential. The book is full of cynical references to such things that any free thinker will probably relate to.
Overall, this is a well thought out and presented hard sci-fi story that I reckon any fan of such stuff will appreciate. It’s part of an ongoing series (three books at present) that has been very well received by readers and, after reading this, it’s easy to see why.
4/5 for concept
5/5 for delivery
5/5 for entertainment
= 4.6 out of 5