I read the first two of these novels earlier in the year, and the amusement quickly wore thin for me. However, I already had the third novel on my Kindle, I was slightly curious to see how it ended, and since I have been on a streak of good books lately, I thought enough time had passed where some of the flaws would be less grating. Overall, I was less irritated with this one than the previous one since I had taken a break from Bob, though I still don’t think he is a good enough character to sustain multiple versions of himself carrying the narrative. I could have handled a novel about one Bob, but not dozens of him.
The biggest flaw is that the narrative is spread too thin. There is still the nuisance of the Brazilian probe, who disrupts two new planets already being colonized; the looming threat of the Others; authoritarian governments; stone age era society development; human/AI love affairs; and the whole saving Earth’s population plot. There is no real feeling of threat because the story lines are too dispered, no real losses or casualties, every decision Bob (or versions of him) makes is the right one. Due to the passage of time, some of the Bobs have to deal with the fact that they will outlive any human they form connections with but beyond facing the shortness of human life, there are no costs. At least in the previous novels, a few versions of Bob permanently died (blinked out of existence? Were shut down?) but he (they) has become invincible in this one.
Surprisingly, one of the story lines that annoyed me the most in the second novel was the one I enjoyed most this time around. This is the plot where Bob observes the beginnings of a modern society. Previously, it had annoyed me because Bob was too directin his actions, playing God, but it was actually interesting when Bob was fine with being reduced to more of an observer/occasional advisor role.
Beyond that, the book was fine. I didn’t care either way about the “Howard is in love with a human” story line, and there were a few moments in that one that did annoy me, like when Howard introduces Bridget to Virtual Reality and places her in a 28-year-old body even though she is in her 50s (I think – the Bobs are all on different time lines so it would take more effort to pay attention to the passage of time than I am willing to devote). While I get the appeal of young age (and why Howard might think it would be a way to sell Bridget on joining him), all the Bobs are just such oblivious nerd guys. He states he loves this woman but his image of her is a young woman, ignoring all the experience she has gained over the years and things she has done. All the versions of Bob have continued to see themselves as a 31 year old man and not reverted to being 18 years old, so why should he expect his love interest to want to ignore her past? But minor pet peeve.
The two main flaws were the Others, who have been a looming threat since the end of book 1. With all the other competing story lines, there simply isn’t enough focus to make them feel that scary. They were set up as an invincible super power but there was not any dramatic tension because of the sheer size of them.
The other story line I strongly disliked involved the water planet, Poseidon. The government on this planet has decided to take an authoritarian approach, dictating people’s job choices. Marcus disagrees with this and helps a resistant political group. I think most of the readers probably share Bob’s views about totalitarian governments and yet, the Bobs never consider that it is possible for an all knowing AI to be wrong about their approach. Maybe it is necessary to be a bit more controlling when setting up a new colony. It’s interesting how the same person can be upset about an authoritarian government forcing their will on others while also forcing his political preferences on multiple planets and all of the human population.
As much as the Bobs judge the Others for annihilating other planets for their resources, the Bobs never have any problems with populating planets with humans, and destroying whatever parts of the original eco-system become a nuisance. The Bobs may avoid disrupting planets with sentient beings but they still have no compunctions about messing with eco systems to ensure human survival, nor do they seem that worried about the future or implement plans to use fewer resources, happily building floating cities and whatever else they can think of to make life easier at the moment.
Basically, if you have started the series, then I think it is worth reading this one for the sake of closure but as far as the trilogy as a whole goes, the fun wore out for me after the first novel. Beyond the philosophical questions raised above, Bob is just too much a stereotype of a nerd who occasionally meanders into slightly sexist ideas – there is one dinner where he has to wear a tie and acts like it is the worst thing ever. I am sure it is for some people. However, he states that the other men at the dinner seemed to feel the same way. Yes, please, let’s generalize all men. I know plenty of guys that enjoy putting on a suit and going out for a nice dinner, just like I know women that would live in yoga pants if they could. Despite being a smart engineer with good qualities, too much of Bob also feels like the bumbling man from any other generic sitcom. Speaking of gender, this line also made me role my eyes:
“Funny, two hundred years after Original Bob’s death, women still ruled the kitchen. Probably, I admitted to myself, because men would have just opened up a bag of chips and jar of dip.”
As usual, sci-fi can envision space exploration, first contact scenarios and humans made immortal through AI, but the idea of men taking an equal interest in household labor or being responsible in the kitchen strains the imagination.
I’m rounding up on this one since it was an improvement on the previous one, and I know I am in the minority in my irritation for these since I keep missing the point of light-hearted romp through the galaxy.