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[Yang Sung-jin] One small summer reading suggestion  

With the suffocating summer heat slowly slackening a bit in South Korea, some vacationers on the beach may be still happily stuck with sci-fi and fantasy. If they have a couple more days to burn through their summer holiday by digging into the escapist genres, I recommend one more title.

Or maybe three titles (sorry, I’m not good at math), since this is a three-volume series: “We Are Legion (We Are Bob)”; “For We Are Many”; “All These Worlds.” Written by computer programmer-turned-celebrated writer Dennis E. Taylor, this trilogy, known as the Bobiverse series, offers a mix of many things, ranging from artificial intelligence to interstellar space probes to fatally limited yet potentially priceless human life.

A mild spoiler alert: You may be exposed to some of the minor details from this award-winning trilogy, so if you want to enjoy the novels with all the surprises intact, this is the point where you stop reading this column and head for a bookstore, either physical or digital, to pick up the titles.

Okay, it’s your decision, which I fully respect. The plot revolves around a character named Bob Johansson, who founded a software company and is about to lead a life of wealth and happiness after selling the firm for a handsome return.

Then he is killed on the street, and wakes up to find himself in a strange place at a stranger time, namely, 117 years later. More shocking is that his entire mind has been uploaded into a space probe (he doesn’t knows where his human body is), and with the ability to replicate himself, Bob and his clones embark on an interstellar journey to find new homes for the embattled and endangered humanity on Earth.

Bob and his clones bravely fly from Earth to other star systems, only to come across a slew of weird encounters, ambush attacks and make-or-break confrontations. The plot and details, overall, are well crafted enough to keep the reader’s attention. Topping the novel itself was the over-the-top performance of Ray Porter, who brought to life all the characters in the audiobook edition of the novels. I bought both e-book and audiobook versions, and was pleasantly surprised to know that a single professional narrator could generate so many voices with subtle differences.

While reading the trilogy, I also found my mind constantly floating to unexpected areas, just like Bob’s probe on an interstellar mission. Although it might be a stretch at a cosmic level, I noticed some similarities between what media companies are striving to achieve and what Bob and his clones are designed to attain.

First, media companies, including The Korea Herald, are now on a long journey to find a new ecosystem with friendly conditions, such as plenty of paying subscribers, less or no competition and an unlimited source of revenue growth. In the Bobiverse series, the clones fitted with humanistic AI are on a quest to discover a habitable planet with proper biocompatibility to save humankind.

Second, both the media and Bob-controlled space probes are likely to face nasty challenges. Years ago at the early stage of internet boom era, the Korean media expected their firm grip on the news market would last forever, even though there were some clear warning signs from the growth of nascent portal sites.

For the unsuspecting media companies here, the first planet dominated by ever-expanding portals such as Naver and Kakao turned out to be not so friendly. Currently, almost all newspapers and broadcasters provide their content to the duopoly portals, but it seemed unlikely that media firms could wiggle out of this ecosystem and stand on their own feet with enough paying subscribers.

Disappointed, the media enterprises continued their tiresome journey and landed on the second planet, which was called social media. Unfortunately, these new platforms were not so “social” for the wandering media companies. To increase the user base on leading platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, media firms were asked to throw in sums of advertising money, and yet there was no guarantee that such payouts would translate into bigger revenues on their existing legacy platforms, such as broadsheet newspapers and terrestrial broadcast networks.

The third planet was video, effectively monopolized by YouTube. This planet’s first and foremost requirement is that, regardless of the media’s origin and nature, tons of entertaining or informative videos should be churned out to attract loyal subscribers and grab a slice of advertising fees.

All in all, both media firms and space probes in the Bobiverse trilogy are getting swept up by a whirlwind of upheavals and hidden traps, with no promise of hitting a habitable paradise any time soon.

There’s one small difference, though. It’s not so fun for the beleaguered media firms to navigate a myriad of challenges in the era of digital, mobile and social media revolutions, but it’s real fun to read (or listen to) an adventure of AI-powered space probes fitted with evolving technologies and lethal weapons beating up baddies in the Bobiverse.

Yang Sung-jin
The writer is multimedia editor of The Korea Herald. He can be reached at -- Ed.

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