The Cosmic Computer

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.

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The Legacy of Heorot

The Jerry Pournelle series continues with another item from the archives.

I sense a strong disappointment and too high of expectations in my younger self.

Raw Feed (1987): The Legacy of Heorot, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes, 1987.Legacy of Heorot

A disappointing novel that reads like a rush job plotted by all three and mainly written by Barnes (perhaps he contributed scenes from grendel’s point of view — some of the best parts of novel).

Ostensibly, a re-telling of Beowulf, the similarities are not very great.

Pournelle seems to have given us the only really well-done character (and even he could have been better done) in novel. Others are almost non-entities. Some characters we only get a name and no physical description! Very annoying.

Biologist Jack Cohen gave the authors the idea for the aliens. They are the best part of novel, but even they are, annoyingly enough, largely undetailed in terms of description. The novel seems a rush job to use Cohen’s idea and vaguely retell Beowulf (without any of the tragic grandeur of the saga’s end).  Continue reading

West of Eden

A retro review from March 3, 2012 …

Review: West of Eden, Harry Harrison, 1984.West of Eden

Harrison, science fiction’s most prolific practioneer of the alternate history sub-genre before Harry Turtledove came along, uses not a pivot point involving human social history but an alternate version of the Earth’s geologic past – a comet does not wipe out the dinosaurs – as the grounding premise of this novel.

This is Harrison’s most ambitious work and was marketed originally to appeal to readers of Jean Auel who was new on the scene at the time. Biologist Jack Cohen, who also helped develop the aliens of Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes’ The Legacy of Heorot, helped Harrison develop the Yilane, the intelligent descendents of reptiles. They are masters of this world and biological engineering. Their boats, cities, and even microscopes are all modified organisms. (Given what seems to be their limited idea of DNA, I find this somewhat implausible but still interesting.) Continue reading