Review: The Cosmic Computer, H. Beam Piper, 1963.
Published in 1963 under the far better title Junkyard Planet, this was an expansion of Piper’s “Graveyard of Dreams”. Like Four-Day Planet, it’s a juvenile novel though with a protagonist older than the usual works in that genre. While Piper did not find the writing of it quite as easy as Four-Day Planet, it was a relatively easy process for him and, to his surprise, it sold well as that other novel.
Besides the System States War with the Federation, which John F. Carr in Typewriter Killer sees as an American Civil War analog, the main historical analogy here is the Melanesian cargo cults which sprang up after Allied armed forces left various Pacific islands after the completion of World War Two. (I wonder, before Steven Barnes’ and Larry Niven’s Dream Park, if this is the first use of cargo cults in science fiction.)
The story is set on the planet Poictesme. The planet’s name is an allusion to one of Piper’s favorite authors, James Branch Cabell. (In the story, we’re told that the Surromanticist Movement, which was rediscovering the “romantic writers of the pre-Atomic Era”, named a bunch of planets after literary works.)
The hero is Conn Maxwell, returning to Poictesme after a six-month voyage from Terra where he was at university studying computer science for six years.
Things have changed on Poictesme in his absence. On the penultimate stop at the world’s capital of Storisende, Conn learns there is mass unemployment on the planet, ten men for every job. Gangs armed with shotguns and tommy guns raid merchants coming to pick things up at the spaceport. Some have also taken to piracy like Blackie Perales’ gang which even stole the spaceship Harriet Barne six months ago, and it hasn’t been seen since. The town of Storisende has offered a reward, dead or alive, for pirates in their city limits, and hasn’t been troubled since.Continue reading