It had been my previous understanding that the Bobiverse series was being concluded as a trilogy, so when a fourth book popped up on my Audible feed, I was absolutely thrilled.
I’m a HUGE fan of the Bobiverse series and the dynamic combination of Dennis E. Taylor’s writing and Ray Porter’s narration. And I’m pleased to say the fourth installment of this series was as good as it’s three predecessors.
Book #4 of the series, titled Heaven’s River, continues the journey of replicated AI and von Neumann probe “Bob”, along with his thousands of descendant clones, as they continue exploring the universe, discovering new species, and for the first time, dealing with inter-Bobiverse conflict.
It’s a dry, witty, and somehow casual space opera that manages to explore an endless list of science fiction concepts while feeling incredibly grounded, completely believable, and again… casual.
As usual, the book bounces around among various Bob clones, but it revolves primarily around two first-person perspectives and their connected storylines:
- “Bob-1” as he searches for lost clone Bender among an alien superstructure
- “Bill” as he seeks to investigate and solve a potential uprising by a faction of Bobs.
Bob’s narrative is a fairly straightforward journey of discovering a new alien species, learning the culture, and navigating the world. It involves numerous chases, espionage, mythology, and even some fascinating philosophical discussions between Bob and the locals… much the same as Bob -1’s prior journey in Delta Eridani.
It makes for an enjoyable read, although as with previous books, it can get just a bit dry and monotonous along the way. The end of this narrative sets up some interesting concepts that Taylor has primarily opted to sidestep up until this point in the series, and I’m very intrigued to see where he takes it.
Bill’s narrative is where things get a bit more interesting conceptually. 25 generations worth of replicative drift have resulted in a faction of Bobs that disagree with how things are being done and are no longer content to just have their protests periodically ignored at moots.
What happens in a post-scarcity, completely libertarian society when members begin having mutually exclusive disagreements about how things should be done?
The resulting conflict and Bill’s investigation into it dig up some new, interesting themes and concepts, and while this narrative thread was a bit lacking in action, I enjoyed the new themes and the direction it seems Taylor is intending to take the series from here.
In some ways, Heaven’s River feels like the 4th book in an infinite series.
It continues in the same vein as the previous books in many ways. The pacing, repetitive humor, and interesting mixture of space opera and hard science fiction are all familiar. There is a sense of endless possibility that is probably what I most love about this series.
In other ways, it feels like the start of a 2nd trilogy.
There is a very obvious change in focus in terms of concepts and themes compared to the previous three books. We’ll dive into that a bit more in the spoiler section of this review, but for now, let’s just say I LOVE where things are heading.
Overall, if you enjoyed the previous Bobiverse books, I think you will definitely enjoy this one too, and I give it a 4 out of 5.
If you’ve already read the book yourself or you don’t care about seeing spoilers, continue below for a deeper dive into my thoughts on Heaven’s River and discussion with other readers in the comments.
The SFF Review 5-Point Analysis
I’ve broken the rest of my Heaven’s River review into the following sections:
- Premise, concepts and themes
- Characters and development arcs
- Prose, dialogue, and style
- World and atmosphere
- Plot and execution
Let’s take a closer look at each category.
Premise, Concepts & Themes
The opening premise of Heaven’s River is two-fold:
- Search and rescue Bender
- Manage the escalating conflict with a divergent faction of Bobs
These two premises are essentially separate stories told in tandem until they very end, so I’ll address them one at a time.
The search for Bender quickly leads to the discovery of a billion-mile-long O’Neill cylinder wrapped around a star like a ball of yarn. The concept of this superstructure and how it works becomes a major part of the story.
In terms of theme, however, the focus here is the culture and evolution of the Quinlins:
- Morality of forcing technology limits on a species in order to hedge their ability to murder each other into extinction.
- Brain devolution as a result of those limits and the unintended consequences of AI core programming
- The evolution of history and mythology and where they intersect with the development of religion.
The second branch of the story follows Bill as he attempts to manage a faction of the Bobs who feel like the Bobiverse shouldn’t be interfering with the species they discover.
This side of the story deals with some interesting themes:
- The morality of inter-species interference, regardless of intentions.
- What happens in a post-scarcity, completely libertarian society when members begin having mutually exclusive disagreements about how things should be done?
- Is there such a thing as ideological self-defense?
I found these themes interesting, although for me, the most interesting themes arrived at the end via the intersection of these two storylines.
- What is the soul?
- The evolution of true superintelligence
I’m hoping Taylor explores these themes further in upcoming books.
Characters & Development Arcs
This is probably the weakest area of the Bobiverse series. The Bobs are all very similar and are essentially brains frozen in time, giving them learning arcs but not really development arcs.
Conceptually, it makes sense, but it also removes a certain core element to the reading experience that the best SFF books have. You aren’t going to go on an emotional, development journey in this series, as you watch a character learn, grow, and realize their potential.
But that’s okay. It works.
There’s enough divergence among the Bobs to keep things interesting, the emergence of permanent characters like Bridgette ads some variety, and the newness of specific members within the species the Bobs discover is enough to provide an interesting character lineup for each book.
Prose, Dialogue & Style
The prose is straightforward and conversational. The dialogue is believable and even a little quirky. The style is casual and relaxed.
It’s the exact opposite of something like Dune, and it provides a lighter, entertaining experience in a genre that is frequently heavy.
World & Atmosphere
This is where the Bobiverse really shines.
The world feels real, and the possibilities feel endless. When I’m listening to the series, I feel like I’m one of the Bobs exploring the universe.
It’s fascinating without being fanciful.
It’s grounded without being boring.
It’s serious without being stagnant.
Most of my favorite SF books make me feel like I’m reading a work of art or listening to a master storyteller. I marvel at the spectacle, but the experience rarely feels accessible or personal.
Taylor’s books, on the other hand, make me feel like it’s the 2100s and I’m exploring the universe. No other series has matched this, and I think it’s the #1 reason I love this series so much.
Plot & Execution
I found the plot of Heaven’s River to be solid and enjoyable, although it didn’t quite hit the same level as the previous three books.
The two primary plot arcs were well-done, but I really feel like Taylor’s writing style requires a few more plot arcs in order to reach its potential. In previous books, the jumps between the various Bobs created a nice pace for the book and prevented stagnation, and the focus on just two arcs in Book #4 created noticeably more stagnation for me.
That’s not to say it was a grind. It wasn’t. But I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more with one additional story arc to add a bit more variety.
Questions For Further Discussion
Finished reading the book? Let’s discuss it further via the following questions.
1. What does the book’s title mean within the context of the story?
This one is pretty straightforward. Heaven’s River is the name of the superstructure the Bobs discover during their search for Bender.
Interestingly, the working title of the book was “The Search For Bender” but it was scrapped for Heaven’s River before launch.
I don’t usually have opinions on titles, but this title definitely felt smaller than the previous books, and I think that’s reflected in the scope of the plot. If Taylor is planning a new trilogy, I’d love to see a return to the larger scopes of the previous books.
2. What was the most memorable moment from this book?
The most memorable moment for me was when the Quinlin professor explains their culture’s “Golden Rule” to Bob-1: “Do unto others as they would like done unto them”.
This is pulled from The Platinum Rule by Tony Alessandra and Michael O’Connor, and while it has plenty of holes that can be poked into it, I found it to be thought provoking and an interesting moment where Bob-1 feels like he’s learning something from a species with access to less knowledge and technology than his.
3. What are your thoughts on the perspective(s) that drive the story?
While I enjoy the point of view of Bob-1 and Bill, the character-specific views and arcs are the weaker point of this entire series, and I would have liked more primary perspectives to keep the book moving a bit better.
4. Which theme do you feel the author was most interested in communicating to readers?
I think Taylor was most focused on exploring some of the hiccups in post-scarcity liberalism. A ton of time is devoted to this theme without much happening in terms of plot, and I get the feeling that this was sort of a pet though-experiment for Taylor, who seems to model the Bobs after himself.
5. Did you find the ending satisfying? Why or why not?
I found the ending equally satisfying and intriguing. I liked the peaceful conclusion with the AI, the discovery of the Skippies’ subterfuge, and the setup for a deeper dive into superintelligence in a later book.
Have you read or listened to Heaven’s River by Dennis E. Taylor? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
How did you experience this book? Which parts of my review do you agree with and disagree with? Sound off in the comments below.