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They'd Rather Be Right, or The Forever Machine

3.08  ·  Rating details ·  1,063 ratings  ·  121 reviews
The Lost Hugo Winning Novel! From the pages of Astounding Science Fiction. Bossy was a most unusual computer. Programmed with all the known facts about the human mind, Bossy should have been the world's greatest psychologist. And she was! When Joe, the janitor, tried her out, Bossy freed the potential of his mind, turning him into a mental superman. And turned his body int ...more
Nook, 178 pages
Published by Renaissance E Books (first published 1954)
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Tom Parsons I can only surmise that those who disliked it were, consciously or otherwise, defending some mental attitudes/beliefs they knew would disqualify them …moreI can only surmise that those who disliked it were, consciously or otherwise, defending some mental attitudes/beliefs they knew would disqualify them from benefiting from Bossy's therapeutic reprogramming of their world-image. The events of American politics in the intervening decades have made it quite clear how fiercely so many cling to self-contradictory illogic as basic to their tribal identity. Personally, I've always classed this story as one of my favorites. And I'm about to reread it, having just taken it off the shelves of 1946-2002 Astounding/Analogs from my father's collection and my own. This note is a result of checking online to see whether this version is longer (which I would prefer) than the book version that I think is also somewhere around here. My best speculation on any honest critic's dislike is just that Astounding always paid by-the-word, and so it was quite a temptation for authors to stretch out what might have been a shorter tale. But I usually enjoy the extra descriptions, plot, and complications that such urges created. As I'm a born San Franciscan, this story is no exception. (less)
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Aug 15, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
The Forever Machine (originally "They'd Rather be Right") was the second novel to win the Hugo award for best novel in science fiction back in 1955. As part of my quest to read every Hugo-winning novel, I struggled all the way to the bitter end.

Part of what makes this book hard to read is that it has so much potential. The fundamental thesis of the book is that human beings are inextricably mired in prejudice and ignorance that education cannot correct. As Joe, the central protagonist puts it,
Oh goodness. This 1955 Hugo winner nearly broke the Hugos. It was actually downright bad in parts, a catastrophic mess in others, and the handwavium was practically everywhere you looked, even in basic logic and common knowledge. I almost gave the novel a one star for all the clichés and the grab-bag of old SF tropes mixed together to create... a single clever idea that was subsequently beat into a fleshy pulp.

Oh my.

So why am I giving this three stars? Because I realized something fairly late in
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Sophomoric inconsistent philosophy that reminded of nothing more than Ayn Rand, with her arrogant supermen. Other reviewers, especially Nathaniel, say it better than I could, and in fact quote some of the same passages that I would. The take on the worthiness of scientists is especially inconsistent - what is going on that this had two authors? One for the sociology and one for the SF plot, and they had different opinions about science? I dunno.

Too bad. There is potential. In an age when too muc
Sep 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I'm glad I didn't read any reviews before reading the book. I'm completely baffled why this book is panned so heavily. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Yes, there were some typos in the printing. Big deal. I thought the story was captivating and there was some interesting commentary on human psychology, especially toward the end.

Avoid the naysayers and give this book a try. I think the majority of the negative reviews are from people who have accepted the opinion that this is "the worst book to w
Jul 24, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Often derided as the worst book ever to win a Hugo, They'd Rather Be Right is a prime example of the disposable pulp fiction that flourished during Sci-Fi's "Golden Age." The novel's central character, Joe, is basically a benevolent version of The Mule from Asimov's Foundation and Empire, the most obvious regurgitation in a work defined by its tendency to retread ideas that even then were already thoroughly explored.

Clifton's interest in the then-promising science of psychology is as enthusiasti
Varlan Georgian
May 19, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I don't understand how this book win the "HUGO" award.
S. Naomi Scott
Initially published between August and November 1954 as a four-part serial in Astounding Science Fiction magazine, They’d Rather Be Right explores the concept of a machine with the power to grant eternal youth and telepathic powers, but only to those subjects who are willing to let go of their ingrained prejudices and beliefs.

The novel itself is a sequel to the earlier stories Crazy Joey and Hide! Hide! Witch!, the first of which introduces the telepathic protagonist Joe “Joey” Carter as a young
Kelsey Cretcher
(2/63) In my Hugo Read-Through
        They’d Rather be Right (The Forever Machine) by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, was originally serialized in Astounding Science fiction in 1954. It controversially received the second Hugo Award for a novel in 1955. Historically this book has been regarded as the “worst” Hugo Award winner ever and has been accused of plot holes, poor writing, and even has made some critics question the public who chose it for a win.
       I went into this book apprehensive
Steven Huddleston
This book cleverly and compellingly explores the question of how our dogmatic, deeply-rooted beliefs may (indeed, do) prevent us from advancing, or even availing ourselves of advances and new knowledge that would significantly, even dramatically improve our situation (social/philosophical inertia). More directly, it explores the question of whether the actual truth is preferable or “healthier” than our perceived “truth”—in short, what we think the truth should be versus what it is—and the price ...more
Aug 30, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf, hugoquest
By far not the best of the Hugos, but it's an engaging little story.
Storyline: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Writing Style: 3/5
Resonance: 2/5

This winner of the second Hugo award for novels would later be scorned by critics as the worst book ever to win the Hugo. Who's right? The voters in 1955 or the later science fiction authors with their advantages of hindsight?

I, myself, reveled in the story's ambition. This is a tale of grand ideas, of the total social fact. Clifton and Riley were toying with and developing criticisms of the scientific enterprise before the more famous
Oct 15, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction, hugo
The ideas in this book are challenging and interesting and provoke some interesting meditations on the human condition. However, the style of the book is exceptionally off-putting, so it takes a good deal of willpower to look past it and actually engage with those ideas.

Mostly this book feels like the self-important theorizing of a young white man who is overly impressed with his own philosophical genius. The sentences are too long and the language too clumsy. The main character, Joe, is a very
Feb 05, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-fantasy
I'm at a loss how this novel won the Hugo.

I'd like to believe it is an unfortunate victim of the ever improving standards against which Hugo candidates are measured, or that there was a dearth of competitive candidates in 1954-55. But then I recall that that was the same publication year as "I am Legend", "Brainwave" and all three novels of Tolkein's "The Lord of the Rings" saga.

They could have done better.

That said, it did win and warrants a (quick) read if only to serve as a cautionary lesson
So this certainly isn't my choice for the worst Hugo winner. Its not exactly groundbreaking but it was entertaining. Its a product of the times but so are most of the Hugo winners from the 1950s.

I'd place it above the two Fritz Leiber winners and Neuromancer (three books I couldn't finish) in my personal ranking.
Jeff Stockett
Considering that this book was written before my Dad was born, it's understandable that it's a little dated. Some of the "futuristic" technologies that are presented in this book include artificial intelligence, computers that understand speech, and a global network whereby computers can communicate with each other (what we would term the internet). The book makes a point to show how radical these ideas are by the surprised reactions of various characters when they encounter these technologies. ...more
Tom Hudson
The second Hugo-winning novel, written in 1954, was a disappointing example of a good idea that ends up nowhere interesting. Takes place in late twentieth century or early twenty-first, in a society that is crumbling because opinions that disrupt the status quo are universally quashed. In that society, the government sponsors a university project to create a machine that is meant to prevent accidents before they happen, and the only way to do that is effectively recreate the human mind. The proj ...more
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book, as it seems almost anyone who reads it these days does, simply because it has a reputation for being 'The Worst Book to ever win a Hugo Award." How can you resist a reputation like that? It took quite a bit of effort to track down a copy too, (+10 points to Sony's ebookstore for having a copy, -15 for charging 8 bucks for an out of print book in a format unreadable by half my devices) but once I secured one, I settled in for what I expected to be a laughable ride.

I spent t
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A prime example where the description of the book had very little to do with it. The story has hardly anything to do about the Bossy "machine" but rather about the people. One is trying to find and later make more psychics like himself. Another is worried that society hasn't produced any new ideas in a very long time. In end, the book goes nowhere. Another bad attribute is each chapter seems to be disjointed from the rest and starts to really ramble at the end. Sorry I decided to read this one b ...more
May 15, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf, hugo, needs-review
“one of the twelve most influential books in science fiction.” said Barry N. Malzberg but I can't imagine why. There's nothing novel (even for the time of writing, I think) about it, and a whole lot of handwaving.

It's not influencing me, at least in any good way.
C.C. Reverie
This book was the first book to win the Hugo Award for science fiction in 1955, one year after the prize was announced. It is a science and philosophy book which could be considered boring upon today's standards.
It was a limited enjoinment in reading this book, more curiosity to see how things have progressed since.
I want to read all the Hugo winners in their orders. So my next one is Double Star by Robert Heinlein (Hugo 1956).
Dec 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
Although this novel about a super computer is a bit dated and silly it makes some good points, and it is a quick easy read, unlike most science fiction novels.

The main theme of the book is that science and human advancement is greatly impeded by the establishment’s refusal to think outside the box.
Seth Heasley
If Goodreads allowed half-stars (which, BTW, why don't they?), I'd go 2.5 here. There's some good concepts in this one, but not at all fleshed out or developed in the kind of way you'd expect from an award-winning novel.

On the other hand, it had the decency to be short. So there's that.
Lance Schonberg
Apparently a sequel to two shorter works, “Crazy Joey” (written with Alex Apostolides) and “Hide! Hide! Witch!” (written solo), both published in Astounding in 1953. They’d Rather Be Right appeared in the same magazine as a serial in 1954. Both of these stories are alluded to in the early pages of They’d Rather Be Right, not by title but in general background information. We don’t actually get the content of either, but are left to assume what might have happened based on hints dropped in the te ...more
My feelings are conflicted about this book, but not enough that I think it's anything other than a bad book. The overall theme is too simple: that all can benefit from seeing things from multiple perspectives, and being too tied to your beliefs, rather than evidence, holds you back. Well, duh, but okay. Does this book explore that idea in a meaningful way? No, it goes completely off the rails. First, it poses some sort of bizarre psychotherapy that can solve the aging process and counter gravity ...more
Michael Burnam-Fink
Rumor (okay, other reviews on Goodreads) has it that this is the worst book ever to win the Hugo. I don't know if that's true-yet. I do know that this is not a good book from any kind of literary perspective, and one that buries its occasional good ideas under tedious essays.

The story begins with Joey, an 8 year old boy in a working class family who is a telepath. Unique in the world, a basic extrapolation of 1950s America, he discovers a sympathetic university psychiatrist who tells him to conc
Lindsay Stares
They'd Rather Be Right (also known as The Forever Machine)
Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, 1954

Premise: A telepathic college student helps two professors to create a machine, called Bossy, that can answer hard questions, do complicated tasks, oh, and make people young and beautiful indefinitely. Of course, it only works on you if you can let go of your deeply held prejudices about how the world should be. Obviously, everyone wants the machine.

I don't think this was nearly so bad a book as it has a
Mar 26, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
While I think it’s well and good to postulate on the idea of immortality, I also think Mark Clifton and Frank Riley left something to be desired in the presentation. We don’t necessarily get the most interesting narrator and that is part of the problem. Joe Carter is a telepath. He’s self-congratulatory and arrogant, one of a three-man team who creates a cybernetic brain capable of using psychosomatic therapy to eliminate human error in judgment and in the process rejuvenates cells. They call th ...more
May 04, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, hugo-award
1955 Hugo award winner. I've been trying to read all the Hugo winners, and I've definitely been putting this one off for a while. Probably because it's known as the worst book ever to win a Hugo award. So, not something I was particularly looking forward to reading. And it lived up to its reputation. Somewhere in there, there was a half-way interesting book. Unfortunately it was buried under crappy philosophical rambling and boring characters.

The main character, Joe, you first meet as a kid tryi
Austin Wright
Sep 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
FIVE-STARS!!!! I actually surprised myself by saying that!

Once I heard that there was near-universal consensus on which book is "the worst", I decided to read this book. There were many reasons why I heard it was the worst:

1) Alfred Bester's "The Stars My Destination" should have won it, but the Hugo Judges didn't want to give it to Bester two times in a row. This actually 100% untrue because the 1955 Hugo Awards were conducted at Clevention, Cleveland, September 2-5, 1955 and the first part of
Matt Hartzell
They'd Rather Be right was fun read. Some of the questions posed by Clifton are highly interesting in relation to today's world, a world that is filled with neural networks, machine learning, autonomous bots and other advances in artificial intelligence. While we certainly don't have any machines that have granted humanity immortality, I do wonder how much of Clifton's pseudo-scientific vision of the future he would actually find fulfilled through the decades of science and research that have be ...more
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Mark Clifton (1906 - Nov. 1963) was an American science fiction writer. Clifton began publishing in May of 1952 with the often anthologized story "What Have I Done?".

Most of his work fits into one of two series. The "Bossy" sequence was written alone, and in collaboration with both Alex Apostolides and Frank Riley. The "Ralph Kennedy" series, which is lighter in tone, was mostly written solo, incl

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“But Billings was completely bewildered. His expression seemed to say that naturally they were people. “The word ‘people’,” Joe instructed in a dry, didactic manner, “used in this context at this ethnological stratum contains a specialized semantic content, signifying respect, approval, classifying you as superior in the humanities attitudes.” Thus translated into simple English, Billings grasped the idea quickly.” 0 likes
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