|Viking, 1985, 253pp, £10.95|
Another Dave Langford review.
I knocked back my bourbon and tapped the Fed databanks for a lead on computer criminals. The teletype clattered, paper tape spewed out:
'GABBY IKE' ASIMOV SUSPECTED MERE FIGUREHEAD + 'FINGERS' GREENBERG & 'LUCKY' WAUGH PROBABLE BRAINS BEHIND SCHEME TO RECYCLE FORESTS INTO SF ANTHOLOGIES + TERMINATE WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE.
That suited me. I pocketed the punched cards with the hoodlums' descriptions, and ...
Punched cards? Tape? Teletypes? Sounds old hat? Boy, wait till you read these ten stories. Joe Gores's 'Darl I Luv You' is all about teletypes, the big punchline being that the person on the other end is -- please sit down before I reveal this -- a computer. What a surprise for anyone who didn't cheat by reading the anthology's title! Stan Dyer's 'An End of Spinach' is War Games in little, a weak joke with kids using Daddy's terminal, which just happens to control American agriculture, to phase out an unfavourite vegetable. That's all; you expected a plot, maybe?
'Computers Don't Argue' by Gordon Dickson is at least a minor classic, courageously reprinted here for the 5,271,009th time: black humour never lets up as computer errors pyramid and the chap who gets an unwanted copy of Kidnapped from his (computerized) book club ends in the death cell, charged with kidnapping by (computerized) police... Dickson cleverly doesn't go into detail about software, but simply records its appalling effects, so the story holds up after twenty years -- as does Poul Anderson's 'Sam Hall' from 1953, perhaps the first SF about the power of hackers in a totally computerized society. Sam Hall is a myth but gets sneaked into data stores as a real man, a murderer of fascist police, and eventually a focus for revolution in horrible future America.
Edward Wellen contributes two mildly amusing yarns, one involving much the same swindle as in Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls (1842, folks). Typically for this book, Wellen's hackers break effortlessly into the central US 'war-room program' by simply guessing the password. Edward D. Hoch's feeble whodunnit cheats, by keeping vital (and implausible) information from the reader: and, oh dear, he has software fraud experts studying not programs but 'computer wiring diagrams'. J.T. McIntosh bases his piece on the daft notion of an Intelligence computer which issues orders and won't -- by design -- explain them. Because the information on which the orders are based is secret, you see, not even the chief of Intelligence is allowed to check it.... A pleasant Silverberg story isn't really about computers; an okay Asimov one ('All the Troubles of the World') is over-familiar from Asimov's own collections.
I spat. These punks weren't in the big league, or they'd have featured topnotch computer-crime tales like William Gibson's 'Burning Chrome'. They cringed back, yellow, as I drew a bead on them with my trusty RS-232 interface. Down these mean streets a man must go ...
|First published in Starburst 84, 1985. |
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