First, let me say that I last read this in a pirated e-copy. Somewhere, I lost my paperback copy, and it's out of print, and the only way I could re-rFirst, let me say that I last read this in a pirated e-copy. Somewhere, I lost my paperback copy, and it's out of print, and the only way I could re-read it was to download an illegal copy from the net.
So sue me! Tom Ryan, if you contact me, I'll send you twice your legitimate royalty payment. And the epub I downloaded, which is MUCH better formatted than most books of a similar vintage that I get from legitimate publishing houses. It was a labour of love for somebody, while must of the traditional publishers who put out e-copies of backlists put no effort into it at all.
So, to the story. This is an extremely flawed book. For the technical reasons, see Rob Sawyer's review. There's a lot of hand-waving about how a computer actually achieves consciousness. On a more personal level, having been at the University of Waterloo just shortly after the events set there, I'm ticked that he sets UW in Kitchener (an adjacent city) and clearly knows nothing about the area (though I'd say he was in the Math faculty computer center)—London is not six miles south of Kitchener, that would be Cambridge (or maybe, at the time, Preston). London is more like 60 miles west.
On the other hand, there are moments that are sublime. When Burgess is first talking about hacking an IBM mainframe, his roommate says it can't be done.
"Have you ever tried?" Gregory asked "No. And I don't have to try to know that I can't fly without an airplane."
That's brilliant, as it reflects the belief, less than a century earlier, that heavier-than-air flight was equally impossible.
Sawyer's own books about emerging consciousness in a networked computer (WWW: Wake & sequels) are technically better, but this tale is absolutely seminal! For all its faults, it's the progenitor of the computer-gains-consciousness-takes-control-of-the world genre. Other authors had had intelligent computers, but Ryan was the one who actually tried to explain how it could happen (he was wrong, but at least he tried!). Programming an AI is far more difficult than Ryan would have us believe (which is why there still isn't one, 40 years later), but at the time of writing it sounded believable. I suspect Ryan never got as far in Computer Science as Moore's Law, because he just doesn't think nearly big enough. P-1 is planning a new crystalline storage medium that can contain 4 billion "addresses" in a 150mm x 400mm cylinder. Even assuming an address points to a 64-bit word, that would only be 256GB of memory. In something that's actually much larger than my current laptop, which in one tiny portion of the entire machine has a terabyte hard drive.
But even knowing how badly he got some things wrong, and cringing at his American understanding of Canadian geography, the scope of his vision, and the things he got right make this utterly compelling. And he leaves us completely hanging! These days (or even a few years earlier with Colossus) there'd be a trilogy. A must read!...more
By page 80, I was becoming frustrated, as murders were occurring at a rate that would put Cabot Cove, Maine,This was both riveting and disappointing.
By page 80, I was becoming frustrated, as murders were occurring at a rate that would put Cabot Cove, Maine, to shame, and there were numerous apparently unconnected threads, with no hint of connection.
Not long after, the story started to become interesting as it became clear how the various events were interconnected, but it really took too long to get there - most people will give up on a book before I do.
There are two things that I can't stand in mysteries and thrillers: outrageous coincidence - where events don't seem to have cause and effect, they're just placed together for the sake of the story; and the way heroes in these stories feel they have to risk life and limb doing things that would be far more easily and effectively handled by the police. It came as a very pleasant surprise that our hero, Glen Garber, isn't a gung-ho vigilante. When it becomes clear to him (in part because of good counsel from his lawyer) that his wife's death may not have been an accident, he talks to - and convinces - the police. His actions are not unreasonable and he doesn't act as if he assumes that trained professionals can't be as effective as a motivated amateur!
However, in the end the whole story is bogged down by an incredible overcomplexity - relying on that personal bugbear - the coincidence. (view spoiler)[There is not one killer, but three!: one's a professional killer, who is leaving so many bodies it has to draw attention to a business that wants to remain unexamined; one is a victim of blackmail who's prepared to kill again in a manner that will expose the very thing the first murder was supposed to hide; and the third, an obvious sociopath in hindsight, kills anyone getting in the murderer's way, via extremely convoluted and contrived methods - yet the killer is supposed to be extremely well organized and can't even get rid of the most obvious evidence. (hide spoiler)] Give me a break...["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more