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review 2018-06-14 03:21
We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (audiobook) by Dennis E. Taylor, narrated by Ray Porter
We Are Legion (We Are Bob) - Dennis E. Taylor

Bob just sold his successful tech company and is massively rich. One of the first things he does with his newfound wealth is sign up to have his head cryogenically frozen upon his death. Not long after that, he's killed in an accident...and wakes up more than 100 years later as an AI. He is now property, and he's been selected as one of four candidates for the job of exploring and colonizing space for FAITH, the government that owns him. It's a good thing that Bob views this as his dream job. First, however, he has to beat the other three candidates, keep from going crazy like so many other AIs in the past, and avoid being destroyed by one of the many groups that don't want this project to succeed. Although Bob does make it into space, it's a rockier beginning than he expects.

I can't remember if I bought this on sale or if I used an Audible credit, but, either way, it was a waste. I only managed to finish it in a reasonable amount of time because of Ray Porter's excellent narration. He made the lengthy technical explanations slightly more bearable. His range of female voices seems to be pretty limited (I think this is the third audiobook he's narrated that I've listened to), but since none of the prominent characters were female and there were maybe only three female characters with speaking roles, that wasn't really an issue here.

I picked this up because I like books with prominent AI characters. Bob was technically an AI, even though he'd started off as a human. For me, the best part of the book was the period between when Bob woke up as an AI and when he was launched into space. I enjoyed reading about him adapting to his new life and skills, even as I rolled my eyes a bit at how easily everything came to him.

The first part of Bob's life in space, before he started replicating himself, was tolerable, but not great. I wasn't a fan of Bob's decision to build a VR environment for himself. Taylor's reasoning for it sounded okay (AI craziness is at least in part caused by sensory deprivation, because the human minds the AIs are built from expect sensory input they aren't getting), but I didn't want to read about some guy living in his magical environment that he could change at will. I vastly preferred it when Bob was housed in a very nonhuman body that was little more than a camera and some manipulators.

When Bob began populating his environment with animals, including a beloved cat from back when he'd still been human, I began to worry that he'd start recreating people he'd known and loved when he was alive. My biggest fear was that he'd recreate his ex-girlfriend. I was surprised and relieved that it never once crossed Bob's mind to do any of this.

After Bob found a stopping point and began replicating himself, the story branched a bit and should have become more interesting. Instead, it became more tedious and considerably less focused.

Each Bob renamed himself in an effort to make things less confusing, and the book followed multiple Bob POVs. I did my best to keep count, and by the end the total Bob count was 30 and the total number of Bobs who got to be POV characters was up to 9 or 10. This was one of the few aspects where I regretted the audiobook format a bit, since the different Bob POVs were briefly identified at the beginning of a section/chapter and were often difficult to tell apart if I missed hearing Porter say their names. Although each Bob viewed the other Bobs as having radically different personalities, the personality differences weren't as noticeable in the different POV sections.

One of the Bobs (Bill) opted to stay in one place and act as a Bob factory, tech researcher, and communication center. One set of Bobs headed back to Earth to see how things were going and whether there was even any point in looking for habitable planets anymore. Most of the other Bobs went in different directions and began exploring - some of what they found tied in with the storyline involving Earth, some of it led to action scenes involving an enemy AI, and some of it had nothing to do with anything as far as I could tell. Probably setup for the next book.

The discovery of the Deltans, intelligent but low-tech beings on one of the Bob-discovered planets, fit into the last category. Sadly, I found it to be more interesting than the primary storyline involving the fate of humanity, even as Bob's actions and plans made me more and more uncomfortable.

Bob (original Bob) discovered the Deltans and, at first, decided just to watch them. He gradually became more involved, to the point that he

considered culling one of the Deltans' natural enemies, the gorilloids, in order to make the Deltans' lives easier. Another Bob disapproved of this, although I got the impression that his disapproval was based more on his dislike of making the Deltans dependent on the Bobs and less on any qualms about genocide. Original Bob spent a lot of time studying the Deltans and almost no time studying the gorilloids. I wasn't as willing as he was to discount the possibility that the gorilloids were also sentient and sapient beings.

(spoiler show)


We Are Legion (We Are Bob)'s biggest problem was that it was boring. Taylor included a massive amount of technical detail, and I really just did not care. I say this as someone who largely enjoyed the scientific explanations and technical details in Andy Weir's The Martian.

It probably didn't help that I couldn't bring myself to care about the various Bobs and their storylines, either. The humans in Taylor's vision of the future were largely annoying and seemed determined to literally argue themselves to death. Rather than talk to each other, share knowledge and resources, and generally help each other out, they preferred to argue about who got to evacuate first and then refused to so much as share a planet. As for the Bobs, I never became very attached to any of them and

didn't even feel a twinge when any of them died. After all, the Bobs themselves barely mourned each other, and they could always just make new ones, even though the personalities wouldn't be the same.

(spoiler show)


Early on, Bob worried about losing his humanity and was reassured that he was still human when he regained his ability to grieve for the family members of his who'd long since died. Honestly, though, he should have continued to worry, because that moment of grief seemed to be his first and last deeply felt emotion in the entire book.

I don't currently plan on continuing this series. I'm not sure I could take another book filled with dozens of iterations of Bob, even with Ray Porter narrating it.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-03-16 20:23
Review: The Unsound Theory
The Unsound Theory - Emilia Zeeland

As you may have noticed, it has been a very slow year for me reading wise. Who knew having an infant and toddler to take care of full time would leave me little "me" time. The chronic sleep deprivation hasn't helped things either, but the plus side is that the few books I have managed to get to this year have been amazing. This one is no exception.

 

In true YA fashion, Yalena has a cryptic past that leads her on a journey to find both her origins and herself. This being the first book in the series, there is a lot of informative information and character introductions but it's a great lead in to what is sure to be a fantastic series. Yalena is an interesting character who surprised me a bit as she found her own voice in a sea of overachievers.

 

I really enjoyed the world building elements that Zeeland includes. Brief history lessons that you attend with Yalena and her classmates make this space world more and more interesting. Of course, what's a good novel without some romantic interests and competitive drama to keep things interesting. STAR Academy is a college level specialty school by invitation only. It is an elite group of students expected to become the next best thing in their respective fields, no pressure there.

 

I highly recommend this book to science fiction fans, especially those who enjoy young adult as well. Space is the next frontier and there is so much to learn from the next generation of explorations. The Unsound Theory has a little bit of everything in it and I can't wait for the next installment of this series!

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review 2016-12-28 00:00
Star Rebels: Stories of Space Exploration, Alien Races, and Adventure
Star Rebels: Stories of Space Exploration, Alien Races, and Adventure - Audrey Faye,C. Gockel,Christine Pope,Anthea Sharp,D.L. Dunbar,Pippa DaCosta,Lindsay Buroker,Patty Jansen,James R. Wells Collection of sci-fi short stories featuring female lead characters.
They are all prequels or inter-series chapters, with a plug for the main series at the end.
As a result, none of them particularly stand out to be interesting enough to get involved in the rest of a whole series.

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review 2016-02-08 00:00
Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration
Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration - Edwin E. Aldrin Jr.,Leonard David Buzz Aldrin's "Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration" is a powerful explication of a specific near-future strategy for NASA's manned exploration activities, as well as a potent meditation on the importance of such a strategy for this country and indeed, for humanity.

Aldrin really doesn't need any introducing, as he is of course the second man to walk on another planetary body, the Moon in July, 1969. His qualifications to speak on such a topic are obviously legion. As such, I feel wholly unqualified to really "review" and pass judgment on any of the technical assertions he makes in the book. However, I am particularly attracted to his concept of "Aldrin cyclers"—spacecraft "cycling" in virtual perpetuity between astronomical bodies (the Earth and Mars, or the Earth and the Moon, for instance), negating the very expensive necessity to expend massive amounts of fuel for acceleration and deceleration for each leg of a trip. The beautiful efficiency of such a design is obvious. Also attractive is the cultural paradigm shift such a design represents—from thinking of manned space "missions" as singular things, to long-term commitments, long-term investments really, with the utility of such spacecraft lasting possibly for decades.

Beyond technical proposals, Mission to Mars makes larger, more general assertions that any (every) American should consider. Aldrin references, of course, his experiences in the 1960's at the birth of the space program and in Apollo—during an era defined both by rapid technological achievement and by simple, shining optimism. He states unequivocally, "Humanity is destined to explore, settle, and expand outward into the universe." Aldrin is reminding a modern, disillusioned world of a reality that no one in this country would have argued against 40 years ago. He is, in effect, offering it up as the medicine to our equally modern, American malaise.

Toward the beginning of the book he asks directly what human spaceflight does for the country. "It reminds the American public," he says, "that nothing is impossible if free people work together to accomplish great things." Aldrin also makes the assertion that, "(Spaceflight) captures the imagination of our youth and inspires them to study science, technology, mathematics and engineering. Furthermore, a vigorous human spaceflight program fuels the American workforce with high technology and cutting-edge aerospace jobs. And it fosters collaborative international relationships to ensure U.S. foreign policy leadership." Toward the first point, any economist could agree. The second point is equally convincing. As China, India, Japan and the other countries around the world take tentative first-steps into space, America's experience and technological prowess could be leveraged. The United States could once again exercise influence and real leadership, in a universally respected, inherently a-political endeavor—if it once again woke up to the "destiny" of human space exploration Aldrin speaks of, and gives it its due.

It is this general theme—the significance of manned spaceflight—repeated throughout the book and indeed, one repeated by Aldrin for decades, that gives true substance to his ideas and the overall plan and strategy for manned spaceflight he's presented. He does not cater to pessimists who would advocate significantly scaled-down long-term plans which lament "political and budgetary realities." Instead, he offers a practical, ambitious plan for the manned exploration of space suitable to its importance for us all. I can only hope that our leaders in Washington could hear his "clarion call" and fund NASA sufficiently.
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text 2015-08-03 16:40
Pluto and its moons get map names from art and literature

The people behind the Pluto mission offered up the chance to contribute to naming the geographical formations and locations. Click here for a spreadsheet for the list that has been submitted for approval.

 

 

"Following New Horizons’ history-making sweep past Pluto on July 14, 2015, the mission has released maps of Pluto and Charon with preliminary designations for the features found on these distant worlds. A month ago, we’d never seen these worlds as more than blurry balls, and now we have maps of their surfaces! Amazing.

 

The names – which still need to be made official – on Pluto come from many cultures in all parts of Earth. Those on Pluto fall into four major categories: space missions and spacecraft; scientists and engineers; historic explorers; and underworld locales, beings, and travelers.

 

The naming scheme for Charon fell under four categories as well: fictional explorers and travelers; fictional origins and destinations; fictional vessels; and exploration authors, artists, and directors.

 

Many features are informally named after science fiction characters, particularly from Star Trek and Star Wars. Some from Alien and Dr Who. Mordor Macular covering the north polar region including the North Pole of Charon, is from The Lord of the Rings.

 

Kubrick Mons named after Stanley Kubrick, is the curious Mountain in the Moat, the lofty mountain in a depression that does not appear to be an impact crater."

Source: earthsky.org/space/first-maps-of-charon-and-pluto
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