The Cosmic Computer by H. Beam Piper

With this book, I thought that I had figured out the main point only to have the rug yanked out from under me at the last moment. I like these types of books. 🙂

Unlike Star Trek or Star Wars, this sci-fi tale has no aliens or abductions or any such stuff. This is a story about a colony, Poictesme (pronounced: Poi-Tem), with a collapsing economy and one tiny ray of hope; a ray of hope so tiny that one might suspect that it was manufactured by half-drunk feverish minds in a moment of desperation. Supposedly, after a civil war the Terran Federation left a super computer (named Merlin) hidden somewhere on this colony world. Even more unlikely, Merlin specializes in “predicting the future.” Now you need to understand a couple things about this world to understand the lure that Merlin has on these people:

    A) The Federation used the Poictesme as a staging ground for the war.
    B) The Federation left everything behind in hidden installations as it cost too much to haul away.
    C) Anyone who found abandoned military equipment could claim it for salvage.

On Poictesme, very few people made a real effort to restart the economy. Instead, they dreamed of the day when Merlin would be found while subsisting on military slavage. Merlin would be wise enough to right the wrongs and repair the collapsed economy. Everyone would have money again. In an effort to prepare for this glorious day, a group of local city officials sent Conn Maxwell to study computer science on Terra. (He was also supposed to search the old military records for the location of Merlin’s hiding place; he actually found maps of dozens of installations that were still hidden across the planet.) While there, Conn became convinced the Merlin was simply a rumor propagated by the military for psychological warfare. Rather than breaking the bad news to his “financiers,” he and his father, Rod, decided on using the myth of Merlin to rebuild the economy. They lied to everyone about the existence of Merlin. The Maxwells and the local financiers formed a company to hunt “salvage.” This cover would allow them to search for Merlin without interruption. Throughout the book, Rod and Conn Maxwell use the hope of Merlin to lure people into building a salvage company, a trans-galactic shipping line, and a production empire – all in the name of searching for Merlin.

Of course, things don’t work out quite so smoothly….. There are those who believe Merlin should be used to watch the courrput government, those who want Merlin to BE the government, those who think that Merlin is a god who can lead mankind to a higher existence, those who think that Merlin is the anti-christ and should be destroyed and those who think that Merlin is a joke. These factions, along with plenty of economic speculation create an atmosphere of that mixes elements of pure anarchy with the pre-1927 stock market. In other words, a whole bunch of fun…..

Don’t worry, I doubt you can predict the ending. It caught me off guard as it came out of left field. You can buy the book from Amazon or get the text and audio book here. Oh, and I don’t see any reason why everyone couldn’t read this book.

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4 thoughts on “The Cosmic Computer by H. Beam Piper

  1. Thanks for the online audio-book site refference. That is really neat!

    I liked the description of the various factions regarding Merlin, too.

  2. Whenever I am caught up on my issue of World Magazine (www.worldmag.com) I usually listen to books from http://www.librivox.org. Or when I am working with brainless materials as I have recently had the opportunity to do at work. Lately, I have been doing plenty of repetitive data entry, so I have gotten through several books this way. I have several reviews in the works from short stories to a history of pirates. 🙂

    Oh and the new word I learned today is: Card; as in: He’s a card. It refers to one who is a socialite and who manages to be the talk of the town. In a few weeks I’ll have a review of “The Card.”

  3. Short stories? Oh, this could be fuuun! You do a great job with this site, btw. Love the new word (technically, our nation has a full deck of cards, then?) 😉

  4. Pingback: Conservative Book Talk » Blog Archive » Five Short Sci-Fi Stories by H. Beam Piper

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