The Cosmic Computer
By H. Beam Piper
Published by Librivox
Read by Mark Nelson
H. Beam Piper’s work had a strong influence on the stories I write today, so perhaps it is not surprising that I have reviewed so many of them. I just recently wrote about Piper’s one mystery novel. Let’s turn back now to what he was best known for, Science Fiction.
The Cosmic Computer was originally published under the title of The Junkyard Planet. I am not sure which title Piper preferred, but I do recall reading that he had a strong preference in the matter. However, both titles fit the story.
It all begins with the return of a young man named Conn Maxwell who, recently graduated from a prestigious university on Earth, has now returned with vital information concerning the long-missing super-computer that had reputedly been used by the Navy of the Terran Federation to put down a revolt in the Gartner Tri-System (where Conn and his father and associates live). The tales of the computer and what it could are incredible and supposedly the Terran Federation forces used it to predict the movements of their opponent even before those opponents could come to a decision on their own.
The member worlds of the Gartner Tri-System are no longer interested in seceding from the Terran Federation, however. What they want the computer for is to tell them how to turn their stagnant economy around and make it vital and prosperous once more.
Unfortunately, while it had been Conn’s job to find out where that computer was, he learns from the former commander of the Federation forces that the computer never had been. Unable to break the bad news to his father’s confederates, Conn comes up with another idea; he tells them that while he does not know where the computer is, he does know the whereabouts of many previously unfound Terran bases in their system. As their planet’s economy was, by then partially based on finding and salvaging valuable resources from such bases (the rest of the economical basis is on a form of brandy made from locally grown melons), he figures he can not only keep them busy, but use the activity to turn the economy around, especially after convincing them they needed a starship of their own rather than to rely on Terran ships to sell their brandy.
It’s a good plan, but his father’s associates are not in the least interested in starship. They want that computer (Merlin) with a religious fervor. Merlin will solve all their problems, or so they believe,. So instead, Conn convinces them the computer is buried beneath an old abandoned Federation Base. It’s a large base and that give Conn and his father time to work on their other plans. Soon their world is recovering economically and all is well, until Merlin is actually found.
This is a very entertaining story and is set, as so many of Piper’s science fiction stories were, in his Terro-Human Future History. It had been Piper’s intention to write at least one story (novel?) for each century from the start of the “Atomic Age” forward to about five thousand years in the future . Most of what he did write takes place in the first bloom of human colonization, known as the Terran Federation. At the time in which The Cosmic Computer is set, the Federation is on its last legs and about to collapse (in another century or two) and this story ends on a note of hope that perhaps Merlin might still be used to keep civilization alive in some part of the galaxy.
The Audio Book:
Mark Nelson does an excellent job of reading this novel. Many of LibriVox’s volunteers are talented amateurs, but Mister Nelson is a pro with over thirty commercially released audiobooks under his belt. I like his no-nonsense approach to reading. He is not trying to act, he is a narrator. He allows the characters to establish their own voices by the author’s choice of words rather than sticking on odd vocal mannerisms, heavy accents or my old favorite (to laugh at) funny voices.
So, to sum this up, the story is engrossing and entertaining, combining the best of space opera with Piper’s classic “Self-reliant Man” characters and an insightful application of history to write a story set in the future. It was a genuine pleasure to listen to Mister Nelson’s reading of this work of one of my favorite authors and I look forward to listening to more by Mark Nelson in the future.