The Cosmic Computer by H. Beam Piper
After finishing school on Terra, Conn Maxwell returns to his home planet Poictesme. He returns to the run down planet knowing what the elder expected of him. He is supposed to tell them where MERLIN, the supercomputer from the last war, is located. They see Merlin as their salvation.
While he was on Terra Conn learned that there never was a MERLIN. He knows he can’t tell the men on his planet that truth. He and his father Rodney Maxwell decide to create a story for the men who govern the planet. MERLIN is still out there, but they have to find it. It’s close in one of the neighboring systems. But while they’re looking for MERLIN, they need to prepare their planet for when they have it up and operational.
Conn saw how much their wine cost people on Terra. He knew how much the natives of Poictesme received in payment – a very small percentage of the final sale price. Conn also convinces them to find a hypership to deliver their products to their markets rather than depending on layers of middlemen. The people on the planet agree with Conn’s arguments.
The buildings, machinery, and people on Poictesme start sprucing up. Soon they have a planet they can proudly display again. They have hope both for MERLIN and a hypership. Conn and Rodney are exploring for a suitable, affordable hypership as they also “explore” for MERLIN. Space pirates abound in the Trisystem. They’ll be extremely lucky or crafty to return to Poictesme successfully.
H. Beam Piper was one of the early great science fiction writers. The Cosmic Computer was originally published in 1963 as The Junkyard Planet (a great description of the Poictesme of Conn’s return from Terra). It’s part of his Federation series which is classic space opera.
Not only does The Cosmic Computer have appealing space opera, but the twist towards the end of the book throws out unexpected political issues. There’s more to Conn’s quest than first appears when he convinces the people on Poictesme that Merlin still exists.
Also, in the fashion of good space opera of the 1950’s and 1960’s, there’s a damsel in distress for a romantic interest. While most of the characters are men, Piper also has strong women like Conn’s sister and the woman he rescues. His mother tends more towards the traditional woman’s role of the time, but she also has a backbone when expressing her beliefs.
The Cosmic Computer is dated by its technology. The engineers and scientists are using slide rules. The computers, while fast and having large memory capacity, are still tape based. That’s a classic problem with older science fiction (even from five years ago sometimes…). No one can predict where technology or people’s imaginations will take them next.
But people are still loving, greedy, hopeful, lazy, ambitious, neglectful, inspiring, etc. – the same as they were 50 or 500 or 5000 years ago and will be 50 or 500 or 5000 years in the future without divine intervention. So the people and tenants of The Cosmic Computer still resonate.
For marvelous science fiction, check out Piper’s The Cosmic Computer.