I haven’t posted a book review in a while due to studies. In lieu of recently cutting down on my workload, I decided to listen to Mark Nelson’s Librivox reading of The Cosmic Computer, the fourth of his readings that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. It is also the third H. Beam Piper novel, set in the Terro-Human science fiction universe. This is the same setting as novels such as Little Fuzzy and Four-Day Planet. I ended up listening to the novel during my walks along the ocean.
Conn Maxwell arrives back home from a sponsored off-world information-gathering trip to Terra to find the rumored top secret war-time supercomputer Merlin. He is received by his sponsors, including his father, and feeling that it would dash their hopes decides not to tell them that he couldn’t dig up anything useful. Conn’s father Rodney Maxwell confronts his son in private soon after and the two conceive of a plan to reboot the planet of Poictesme’s economy by using the belief in Merlin’s existence to spur commerce, exploration and manufacture. So begins the rather messy regeneration of Poictesme.
With all of H. Beam Piper’s novels, The Cosmic Computer is told with humour derived from human behaviour and logic. The story flows easily, and we see how something so simple can snowball near out of control within a short period of time. It is the juggling of many tasks that often creates conflict for Conn and his father, and their pact to secrecy is put to the test many times throughout.
Another trait of H. Beam Piper’s novels is the art of the conspiracy. Whilst we see some of this with Conn and Rodney Maxwell’s plan to some extent, we also see the machinations of the various antagonists also creating obstacles for the plan. The motivation for one of the players also adds in another problem relating to the nature of Merlin, an invention that Conn and Rodney are doubtful even exists. There are clues to his identity right from the beginning, but I don’t want to spoil that part.
Another aspect of H. Beam Piper’s novels is technology and violent conflict. To the case of Merlin, it might seem laughable given the reality of Moore’s law and in micronization in general. Whilst we see Piper’s descriptions of technology such as computers often being limited to his own era, this didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the novel.
I really liked this novel. The characterizations, plot and action worked like a charm. I also extend my thanks to Mark Nelson for taking time out to record so many classic audiobooks, especially silver-age science fiction. I highly recommend this novel to lovers of science fiction and humour.