18 February 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Eternity's Mind (Saga of Shadows #3) by Kevin J. Anderson

My rating: 4.6 out of 5

Bringing to a conclusion a superb science-fantasy space opera epic, Eternity’s Mind delivers much more of that we've seen in the previous books of the Saga of Shadows (see my reviews of books one and two). Told in the same style as those and also Anderson's prior seven-volume Saga of Seven Suns, the story moves along at a good pace, being fast-moving yet not causing me to become lost or disoriented at any point. In fact, the rapid switching between character viewpoints is one of the features of this series that I've really enjoyed. It's a fitting finale to the saga that has been some of the most entertaining fiction that I've ever read in recent years of any genre. It's not for the intellectual or hard sci-fi crowd (not to diminish the storytelling) who will be able to pick holes in many aspects, I'm sure. But if you are a reader who relishes being entertained by tales of massive scale, getting lost within myriad story threads and the wonder of it all then this is a series to which you must give some serious thought.

The Saga of Shadows novels

As in the previous books, the world building is spectacular. Readers familiar with the series will know exactly what I mean and will enjoy the continuation story of the Bloaters and the strange Onthos aliens who come to the forest planet of Theroc to “care for” the huge Worldtrees that contain the enigmatic Verdani mind. As events unfold, some foes from earlier times also make a return but this time there are some surprising results. Things initially continue to get worse for the humans and Ildirans of the Spiral Arm, but then discoveries are made and elements begin to awaken which turn the course of events around completely and lead to a conclusion that is awesome. I felt that the ending was great, and it built up at a steady pace then concluded nicely over the final chapters without any cliff hangers at the very end. That said, there is certainly room left for us to see more of this universe, although the authors says in his Dedication that
Eternity’s Mind “is the end of the Seven Suns universe, for now”. We'll see, but I would like to see more because it really is a spectacular setting.

Despite being a moderately long volume (576 pages in hardback form), at no point did I even come close to losing interest which is testament to the excellent entertainment and escapism qualities. This was the same for the other books of the series as well. Anderson sure knows how to spin an entertaining yarn, that's for sure. Characterization is (typically for this series) very good, and perfect for the genre. This time, my firm favorite was one of the least likeable in an idealistic sense, but I thought she was great. Readers of the series will recall Elisa Enturi, the extremely loyal deputy to big-hitting Roamer businessman Lee Iswander. Her devotion to Iswander and his empire is admirable but she doesn't always know where to draw the line between hard-line business practice and plain insane behavior. This is exactly why I liked her, she had good depth and the most interesting motivations. This is no where near the first time that I've liked a baddie the most – says a lot about me maybe?

Overall, this is a fine conclusion to the series which contains two other novels and also two shorter works (Whistling Past the Graveyard and Island in a Sea of Stars), the first of which is a prequel novella that lays the platform for this series and providing a link to the prior Saga of Seven Suns. If you're a fan of rollicking space opera and value the entertainment aspect of a story, you should read this series. I think you'll find what you like.

4/5 for concept
5/5 for delivery
5/5 for entertainment
= 4.6 out of 5

Buy the ebook HERE (Amazon)
Buy the paper book HERE (Book Depository)

09 February 2018

Sneaky peek at Peter F. Hamilton’s new sci-fi novel Salvation (plus an excerpt!)

Peter F. Hamilton is best known for his epic space operas set in futures where the human race has spread to the stars and he is one if may all-time favorite authors. His books such as The Reality Dysfunction, Fallen Dragon, Pandora's Star and Great North Road are sci-fi masterpieces. His next novel Salvation begins a new trilogy and is due in bookshops on September 4th, 2018.

About both the distant future of humanity, and how we get there, 
Salvation follows two storylines: the first is set in the year 2204, where humanity has spread throughout the galaxy, thanks to a system of advanced gates that allows them to travel instantaneously between planets. Spaceships have become all but obsolete, but when a crashed alien spacecraft is found on a newly-discovered world, a team is sent out to investigate it and the strange cargo that it carries. The other storyline is set in the 51st century, following a genetically engineered group of soldiers designed to confront an ancient enemy, bent on hunting humans to extinction.
Anyway, here is a small excerpt released as a teaser by the publisher Penguin Random House. I think you'll agree that the plot idea sounds quite intriguing. I can't wait! Enjoy...

Earth Calling
Drifting through interstellar space, three light-years out from the star 31 Aquilae, the Neána abode cluster picked up a series of short, faint electromagnetic pulses that lasted intermittently for eighteen years. The early signatures were familiar to the Neána, and faintly worrying: nuclear fission detonations, followed seven years later by fusion explosions. The technological progress of whoever was detonating them was exceptionally swift by the usual metric of emerging civilizations.
Metaviral spawn chewed into the cometry chunks that anchored the vast cluster, spinning out a string of flimsy receiver webs twenty kilometers across. They aligned themselves on the G-class star fifty light-years away, where the savage weapons were being deployed.
Sure enough, a torrent of weak electromagnetic signals was pouring out from the star’s third planet. A sentient species was entering into its early scientific industrial state.
The Neána were concerned that so many nuclear weapons were being used. Clearly, the new species was disturbingly aggressive. Some of the cluster’s minds welcomed that.
Analysis of the radio signals, now becoming analogue audiovisual broadcasts, revealed a bipedal race organized along geo-tribal lines, and constantly in conflict. Their specific biochemical composition was one that, from the Neána perspective, gave them sadly short lives. That was posited as the probable reason behind their faster than usual technological progression.
That there would be an expedition was never in doubt; the Neána saw that as their duty no matter what kind of life evolved on distant worlds. The only question now concerned the level of assistance to be offered. Those who welcomed the new species’ aggressive qualities wanted to make the full spectrum of Neána technology available. They almost prevailed.
The spherical insertion ship that left the cluster—it didn’t know if it was one of many being dispatched, or alone—measured a hundred meters in diameter, a mass comprised of active molecule blocks. It spent three months accelerating up to thirty percent of light speed along a course to Altair—a trip that took just over a hundred years. During the lonely voyage the ship’s controling sentience continued to monitor the electromagnetic signals coming from the young civilization that was its ultimate goal. It built up an impressive knowledge base of human biology, as well as a comprehensive understanding of their constantly evolving tribal political and economic structures.
When the ship reached Altair, it performed a complex flyby maneuver, which aligned it perfectly on Sol. After that, the physical section of the sentience’s memory that contained all the astrogration data of the flight from the cluster to Altair was jettisoned and the constituent blocks deactivated. Its weakened atomic structure broke apart into an expanding cloud of dust, which was quickly dispersed by Altair’s solar wind. Now, if it was ever intercepted, the insertion ship could never betray the position of the Neána abode cluster—for it no longer knew where it was.
The last fifty years of the voyage were spent formatting an emplacement strategy. By now, human ingenuity had produced starships that were flying past the insertion ship in the other direction, in quest of new worlds out among the stars. The information blasting out from Earth and the solar system’s asteroid habitats had become increasingly sophisticated, yet, conversely, there was a lot less of it. Radio signals had been in decline since the internet had begun to carry the bulk of human data traffic. For the final twenty years of the insertion ship’s approach it received little apart from entertainment broadcasts, and even those were shrinking year by year. But it had enough.
It flew in south of the ecliptic, shedding cold mass in irregular bursts like a black comet—a deceleration maneuver that took three years. This was always the riskiest part of the voyage. The humans’ solar system was scattered with a great many astronomical sensors scanning the universe for cosmological abnormalities. By the time it passed the Kuiper belt, the insertion ship was down to twenty-five meters in diameter. It emitted no magnetic or gravitational fields. The outer shell was fully radiation absorbent, so there was no albedo, making it invisible to any telescopes. Thermal emission was zero.
No one perceived its arrival.
Inside, four biologics began to grow within molecular initiators, attaining physical patterns the ship’s sentience had designed, based on the information it had acquired during the long voyage.
They were human in size and shape; skeletons and organs carried the mimicry down to a biochemical level. Their DNA was equally authentic. You would have to go a lot deeper into the cells to find any abnormality; only a detailed audit of the organelles would reveal alien molecular structures.
It was the minds of the biologics that gave the insertion ship the greatest difficulty. Human mental processes were complex verging on paradoxical. Worse, it suspected the performances in all the fictional dramas it received were overemphasizing emotional responses. So it constructed a stable primary architecture of thought routines, while including a fast learning and adaptive integration procedure.
As it closed to within a million kilometers of Earth, the insertion ship discarded the last of its reaction mass as it performed a final deceleration maneuver. Now it was basically just falling toward the southernmost tip of South America. Tiny course correction ejecta refined the descent vector, steering it at Tierra del Fuego, which was still thirty minutes from greeting the dawn. Even if it was detected now, it would simply appear to be a small chunk of natural space debris.
It hit the upper atmosphere and began to peel apart into four pear-shaped segments. The remaining matter broke away in fizzing sparks that produced a short-lived but beautiful starburst display streaking through the mesosphere. Below it, sheltered under their blanket of thick winter cloud, the residents of Ushuaia, the southernmost city on Earth, remained oblivious of their interstellar visitor.
Each segment carried on down, aerobraking with increasing severity as the atmosphere thickened around them. They slowed to subsonic velocity three kilometers above the surface, plunging through the clouds, still unobserved by anyone on the planet.
The segments were aimed at a small inlet a few kilometers west of the city, where, even in AD 2162, the rugged land lay unclaimed by developers. Two hundred meters from the shore, four tall splash plumes shot up into the air like thick geysers, crowning and splattering down on the slushy ice that bobbed along the waters of the Beagle Channel.
The Neána metahumans floated to the surface. All that now remained of the insertion ship landing segments was a thick layer of active molecule blocks covering their skin like a pelt of translucent gel, insulating them from the dangerously cold water. They began to swim ashore.
The beach was a narrow strip of gray stones cluttered with dead branches. A dense woodland occupied the slope above it. The aliens scrambled a short way up the incline as the pale dawn light began to seep through the murky clouds. Their protective layer liquidized, draining down into the stones where it would be flushed away by the next high tide. For the first time, they drew air down into their lungs.
“Oh, that is cold!” one exclaimed.
“Good classification,” another agreed through chattering teeth. “I’ll go with it.”
They looked at one another in the gray light. Two were crying from the emotional impact of arrival, one was smiling in wonder, while the fourth appeared singularly unimpressed by the bleak landscape. Each carried a small pack of outdoor clothing copied from a winter wear ad broadcast eighteen months earlier. They hurried to put it on.
When they were fully dressed, they set off along an ancient track up through the trees until they came to the remnants of National Route Three, which led to Ushuaia.

28 January 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Acadie by Dave Hutchinson

My rating: 4.3 out of 5

Recently I have been taking a greater interest in shorter forms of fiction, and I've been seeing this novella rate well, so it was a simple choice to have a look for myself. It's just over 100 pages in paperback form with an interesting storyline and written in a lovely fluid style so it's a slick read. Right from the first paragraph I found myself captivated by the story and it kept me that way right through.

The title gives a slight clue to the subject and setting which is an idealistic, peaceful colony populated by people who fled Earth hundreds of years prior to find the freedom to explore the genetic potential of the human species. A group of heavily modified humans known as Writers live separately in a hollowed out asteroid and are continually playing around with genetics and things under the leadership of their mysterious and enigmatic founder Isabel Potter. Told in a first-person narrative style from the perspective of Duke Faraday who is the reluctant President of the colony which is made up of a vast network of ships and habitats drifting around in a remote star system far from Earth. The rogue colony is continually on the run from the Bureau of Colonisation based back on Earth who wish to eliminate them for many reasons, not least the fact that the majority of the colony population is made up of colonists who were stolen while waiting in suspension for a trip to one of the new Bureau worlds. The Bureau has been tracking them for hundreds of years across space and in this story it looks like they may have hit pay-dirt. As the story moves along, we eventually learn that all is not as it initially seems, and things culminate with a twist that turns the whole story on it's head. Then we're left wondering and wanting another installment to do some explaining. Quite well done really, and there's more than enough story meat here to produce a full-length novel, so I'd love to see Hutchinson expand this story or explore other ideas in the same setting.

Hutchinson covers an incredible amount of storytelling territory for such a limited page count and his world-building is superb, as good as in any other modern space opera. There is a good dose of tech for those who (like me) require such things in their science fiction, and the characters are great, well developed and their dialogue fits into and enhances the fluid style that I mentioned earlier. There is lots of wit and humour in the dialogue too which further helps the pages just slide by. The elements all combine so well and show off the author's skill. I am a big fan of Peter F Hamilton's work, and this story (so far the only of Hutchinson's that I've read) reminded me of that to some degree, mainly in theme but also in the grand scale which is a signature feature of space opera.

Overall this is a very enjoyable read, it moves along rapidly and left me feeling mostly satisfied yet definitely wanting more. I hope Hutchinson isn't done with this yet. It's been a nice introduction to a great author. I look forward to looking at more of his work.

4/5 for concept
5/5 for delivery
4/5 for entertainment
= 4.3 out of 5

24 January 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Telemass Quartet by Eric Brown

The Telemass Quartet by Eric Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here we are again, examining a really nice body of work from one of my all-time favorite genre authors, one who repeatedly fails to disappoint me with his ability to spin splendid yarns that are interesting, entertaining and a pure joy to sit back and relax with.

The Telemass Quartet is a series four separately published novella length stories that are chronological and really need to be read as such:

1. Famadihana on Fomalhaut IV
2. Sacrifice on Spica III
3. Reunion on Alpha Reticuli II
4. Exalted on Bellatrix 1

You could possibly read numbers 1 through 3 in any order, but definitely number 4 should be read last as it is a finale and concludes the series nicely. I read them one after the other as a single work which worked very well, the overall storyline has good momentum which I enjoyed staying with.

Set in the same universe as Brown's Starship Seasons series of novellas in what we know as "the expansion”, the Telemass stories have a similar vibe and feel, being very character based with love, loss, pain and eventual joy the key elements. It's a flavour of story that Brown is very, very good at and it has become a real signature of his work. This bundle is a blast to read, and tells the story of tired ex-cop Matt Hendrick from Earth who wishes to get his daughter back from his ex-wife who has kidnapped her and is undertaking a quest across the galaxy in search of dramatic healing for her. Each installment has a race of strange and enigmatic aliens and some sort of cult or bizarre spiritual practice central to the story. These are tropes that Brown has used in previous books and are ones that always combine together to deliver an interesting story.

The first installment, Famadihana on Fomalhaut IV, introduces the main players and takes us on a journey to a remote jungle planet where a strange religious cult and race of aliens enact rituals in an attempt to bring the dead back to life. As you can expect, all is not as it seems. Next, in Sacrifice on Spica III, we go to a planet that is just about to begin a brutal five year winter, slowly closing down and its inhabitants retreating far underground to await the arrival of summer. Here we find another bizarre cult with death at its core. Then, in what I thought was the most interesting of the series, Reunion on Alpha Reticuli II takes place on a luxury tourist planet that is awaiting the arrival of a starship which has been travelling for centuries to reach the planet. The thing here is that after the starship left Earth, instantaneous Telemass travel was invented and rendered starship travel obsolete and others from Earth beat them there by a few hundred years. The crew of the starship are unaware of this until they phase back into normal space. This  part only forms part of the backstory to the main plot which is still Hendrick’s quest to reclaim his daughter. Reunion really sets things up for the finale by introducing a key character who plays a pivotal role in the end. Speaking of which, Exalted on Bellatrix 1 is the final installment and brings about a fitting finish to the tale. Again, there is a strange alien species and a group of humans who have an unusual relationship with them. It is these aliens and their abilities who are able to effect a fine end to the overall Telemass storyline.

Each novella follows the same general theme and they flow together very well. If the whole lot were bundled together end to end, it would make up a nice novel, and that is effectively how I read it. This has happened with some Eric Brown’s previous work and has turned out very well - Brown’s own Kethani being a good example of individual short works combining to become a great novel.

Overall, this series comes together very well and is an enjoyable read. I spent much of my time reading this with either a cup of coffee or glass of cider next to me, depending on the time of day. Perfect.  It doesn’t break any new ground but fans of Eric Brown will find comfort in his trademark style and character development. For anyone who is new to Brown’s work, this series would be a fine introduction, in my opinion. I suspect we may see this released as a single volume in the near future, as well as seeing more stories based in this interesting Telemass universe. I love the sound of that.

4/5 for concept
5/5 for delivery
4/5 for entertainment
= 4.3 out of 5

23 November 2017

BOOK REVIEW: What Does This Button Do? - An Autobiography by Bruce Dickinson

What Does This Button Do?: An AutobiographyWhat Does This Button Do? - An Autobiography by Bruce Dickinson
My rating: 4 out of 5

Ever since I heard the soaring vocals in the chorus of Iron Maiden's iconic tune Run to the Hills as an impressionable kid in the 80's, Bruce Dickinson has been in my head. I've been eager to read his autobiography, right from when it was announced that one of the most legendary metal vocalists of all time was going to tell of his life and career in his own words.

Bruce is someone who I've always wanted to meet and share an ale and a yarn with, it always seemed to me as though he and I have a number of things in common. Bruce's story confirmed that, and as he explains the major events of his life I could see that we have a similar worldview in lots of ways. One thing that he has in truck loads, and that which I often lack, is confidence. By 'eck, this bloke has some confidence. This is evident from his career as the front man of Iron Maiden and also from his inspiring journey to becoming a commercial airline pilot. As a professional aircraft engineer of 20 years and currently also as a student pilot, I know how fraught with obstacles and trials the aviation industry is. Even so, this guy just walks up and says to himself "F@#k it, I'm gonna do that", and he does so, very successfully.

Now to the book itself. It's written by Bruce's own hand in a very entertaining and vibrant style that reflects his personality and adds a rich layer to the stories. He doesn't go into all that many things in much depth or detail, but when taken as a whole life-story, he does a reasonable job of squeezing a lot into the book. What is noticeably absent from the book is anything of any real substance about other people. There's no relationship details, other than professional, with anybody whether it be band mates or family members. Initially I found this rather disappointing because I was looking forward to learning a bit about Bruce the family man, for example, but there's nothing like this in there anywhere. I've since seen a couple of interviews with Bruce where he addresses the issue and explains why he didn't wish to reveal personal details about others. I can see his point and generally agree with his reasoning, which shows him to quite clearly be a very private person, and all of that stuff is none of my business anyway. That said, this autobiography does seem a little incomplete without at least some of these details.

He does spin some more detailed yarns about his flying exploits, which I found incredibly interesting. Again, I'm impressed with Bruce's confidence and tenacity as he tackles challenge after challenge. He's clearly very into what he does, whether it be flying any number of different aeroplanes, or crafting songs. In a word, inspirational. Toward the end of the book, there is one part of his life where Bruce does get quite candid, and that is the story of his battle with cancer. He opens up about his treatment and recovery enough for us to appreciate the depth of his struggle, and his stubborn grit shines through again as he just gets on with the job of kicking the big C into touch. Again, noticeably missing is where his family fitted into this picture.

In summary, this is a good autobiography about a very interesting person. I enjoyed it immensely and drew inspiration from so many aspects of Bruce's journey through life. Essentially it's a good autobiography recounting Bruce's professional life and career(s), but what would've made it a great autobiography would be more depth to his personal story. For what it is, though, it's pretty solid and well worth a read.

5/5 for concept
4/5 for delivery
3/5 for entertainment
= 4 out of 5

04 October 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson: Flashing Metal with Maiden and Flying Solo by Joe Shooman

Bruce Dickinson: Flashing Metal with Maiden and Flying SoloBruce Dickinson: Flashing Metal with Maiden and Flying Solo by Joe Shooman
My rating: 4.7/5

I picked this up intending to read it as a stop-gap before Bruce's autobiography is released in a month or so, and I began it not expecting all that much, to be honest, based on some other reviews which I'd seen. But, it's really quite a good book and has some great insights and critiques of much of the music which Bruce has been involved with over the years. It's quite up to date (published 2016) and tells the story right up to the release of Iron Maiden's awesome
The Book of Souls double album and Bruce's much publicized cancer scare in which he, yet again, demonstrates his grit.

I've always been a very big fan of Bruce Dickinson, from first hearing him belt out Run to the Hills back in 1982 when I was a kid through until now where his unstoppable energy and enthusiasm has taken him to achieve some great things. And there seems to be no stopping him either. I guess that I feel that Bruce and I may be very similar, because his artistic and social sensibilities have always appealed to me. He is also very much involved in aviation which is the industry in which I also ply my trade.

The book itself is quite well written by Joe Shooman, and he weaves the story of Bruce's early life and his introduction to the London rock scene rather well given the sheer pace of events. I found the early history part particularly interesting because of my fascination with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) era that was so hugely influential to rock music and spawned some of the best rock and metal acts to ever play a not. Many later and now contemporary bands really owe the depth of their sound to these British lads who busted out of the ghastly punk scene and forged something quite incredible.

As mentioned, I really liked Shooman's descriptions and critiques of Bruce's solo albums and some of Iron Maiden's albums as well. It all helped because the author reflected a lot of my own opinions of the music and made this a text that I could easily relate to in an academic sense. I was always eager to pick up reading from where I left off and the pace was good and moved along nicely. The chapters are arranged well, and they often end on a bit of a "cliffhanger", but flicking the page enables you to pick up again the next time you read quite seamlessly.

Overall this is a good book, not too long yet not lacking in substance or depth of information. A recommended read for anybody interested in Bruce Dickinson or Iron Maiden. I enjoyed reading it a lot.

5/5 for concept
4/5 for delivery
5/5 for entertainment
= 4.7 out of 5

View all my reviews

25 August 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

The Massacre of Mankind: Authorised Sequel to The War of the Worlds by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 2.3 out of 5

This review has a broad overview of the story, so it may contain some minor spoilers.

In this, we have my most anticipated book of 2017, an authorized sequel to a foundation work of science fiction and one that I'd been waiting impatiently for since it was first announced. Within minutes of the ebook file being loaded onto my Kindle I was into it with great gusto, but after a few chapters my level of enthusiasm had plummeted dramatically. I will say from the get-go that this book seems very well crafted in a technical sense, but Baxter's presentation makes me fearful that he may have made it largely inaccessible to a modern audience. Hopefully during the course of this review we can get to the bottom of why I feel this way.

The story idea is a great one, of course, in that the Martians invaders from the 1898 original novel The War of the Worlds come back to Earth to have another crack. This story begins in 1920 and is effectively an alternate history story with a sci-fi base. The book is stocked with plenty of characters from the original novel and the narrator of this book, Julie Elphinstone, is one of these.

The writer of The War of the Worlds, referred to within this book as "The Narrative", is named as a certain Walter Jenkins and it is his continuing obsession with the Martians and his predictions of their actions which drives this story forward. He commissions Julie to carry out a task for him to try to regain some control in the situation with the invaders. The military hijack her mission and Julie is thrust headlong toward the Martian stronghold.

Much has changed in Britain and Europe after what after the events of the first Martian War, World War One has been fought but the outcome and resulting political landscape are very different. Britain is ruled by a corrupt military government in cahoots with Germany, who now control most of Europe. Some technology has been gleaned from the remnants of the Martians and this has been pressed into service in the form of mechanized weapons and there is a whole industry trying to harness the power of the atom.

Along the way much is revealed of the Martian plans for their mission here on Earth. Also revealed are some other extraterrestrial species and these play various roles in the story. I must admit that this is an enjoyable element to the story that I didn't expect. Also enjoyable is the cool post-steampunk feel in places, like huge Zeppelins and massive armored land-ships. The Martians eventually land on other parts of our planet as well and expand their assault. For much of the book the story jumps between Julie's first-person account and various other third-person accounts from these other places.

The pace does pick up noticeably in the second half which is just as well because the first half is (I thought) annoyingly slow. Coupled with this, Baxter uses a language style which would be appropriate if it were written during the period in which is is set, but there is a large amount of time spent with needless descriptions of the scenes and the things in them. Maybe the author felt this old-school stuff necessary in order to achieve the desired period feel but it makes it really drag and I soon found it quite a chore to read. I can see a lot of people giving up on this part way through, which I nearly did a couple of times.

What kept me going was my desire to finish it, to see what happens at the end. Most of all, I really wanted to write a glowing review of this massively anticipated novel but, sadly, that isn't to be. If I'm really honest with you, I should've given up because I don't think that the conclusion of the story offered anything all that rewarding. It was okay in a thematic sense, but it wound down rather anticlimactically and left me feeling quite flat. The way is left open for continuation, there being a number of loose ends left dangling but, if there is, I don't think I will be leaping up to read it, not if it's anything like this book.

I'm certain that Mr. Baxter put a lot of hard work into this book but I don't think that he or the publisher got this one right at all. That is only my opinion, of course, but it's not often that I feel as disappointed with a book as I have with this one.

4/5 for concept
1/5 for delivery
2/5 for entertainment
= 2.3 out of 5

24 July 2017

BOOK REVIEW: We Are Legion (We Are Bob) [Bobiverse #1] by Dennis E. Taylor

My rating: 4.6 out of 5

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