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REVIEW: The Forever Machine by Clifton & Riley

REVIEW SUMMARY: An excellent story that keeps your interest


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A super intelligent computer and rejuvenation machine is feared by an opinion controlled society.


PROS: Moves quickly, interesting prose, vivid characterizations

CONS: The pace of the second half did not match that of the first half.

BOTTOM LINE: An enjoyable story with a classic feel. Well deserving of the Hugo award it received in 1955.

In 1955, They?d Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton & Frank Riley was the second novel to ever receive a Hugo award. (Later publications were released under the title The Forever Machine.)

The story deals with the creation of a super-intelligent computer named Bossy. Bossy was created by a three man team: Jonathan Billings, a 72 year old professor Dean of Psychosomatic Medicine at Hoxworth University; Duane Hoskins, a 40 year old physicist and Doctor of Cybernetics at Hoxworth; and Joe Carter, a 22 year old telepath who secretly uses his powers to assist the two professors with creating Bossy. Joe hopes that the computer can end the loneliness he feels from being the world?s only telepath. But before he can accomplish this, he and his companions must convince an opinion-controlled society that Bossy is not a threat to mankind.

The narrative starts at fairly quick pace with the three main characters on the run from federal agents. Lots of information is conveyed with relatively few words so I found myself quite immersed in the story. Something interesting was happening in every chapter. I Klausnered through the story in two days (OK, so it?s only 180 pages, but still?). I did find the last half to be a bit slower pace, but even so, it kept me turning the pages.

The authors portray a society that is devoid of original thinking. The mass opinion of society is controlled, though the authors only hint as to the exact method. One is to assume that man has become lazy with regards to inspiration and original thought. This intellectual stagnation is consciously feared by the public only when news of Bossy breaks. There is widespread panic that a super-intelligent computer that could think on its own would replace man in every worthwhile function. This belief sends Bossy?s creators into hiding.

While the characters are in hiding, the readers are introduced to Mabel, an aging prostitute who was ?a hundred-dollars-a-night girl in her prime?, and Doc Carney, an ex-carnival mentalist who?s scared of what Bossy might do to mankind (especially when Bossy learns to rejuvenate humans). Their characterizations, like all of them in this story, are deftly molded into three dimensions. Through these characters, the reader sees many memorable examples of human nature.

At times, the writing style reminded me of Theodore Sturgeon and the mood of the story evoked memories of Walter Tevis? The Man Who Fell to Earth. The authors have crafted some memorable verbiage. Two that struck me as particularly clever, or at least gave me pause, are: ?There was no animosity in his voice. It was the simple desire to obstruct found in everyone, and often expressed where there is no fear of retaliation? and ?A human being is seldom bothered with insufficient data; often the less he has the more willing he is to give a firm opinion.?

There are several themes that run throughout the story including freedom of thought, the drive to learn, immortality, and a person?s desire to be right. That last one is the basis for the original title. At one point, Joe explains that immortality requires that the subject have the willingness to lose his prejudices and preconceptions. However, as Joe explains, if that is the price of immortality, people would rather be right ? and die.

Overall, this was an enjoyable story with a classic feel. And well deserving of the Hugo award.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

2 Comments on REVIEW: The Forever Machine by Clifton & Riley

  1. So Klausner is a verb now. Good job! Or did you mean that by reading it in two 2 days, you now look like Harriet Klausner?


    As mentioned in the original review, this story was originally released as They?d Rather Be Right and then later released as The Forever Machine. What I did not realize was that The Forever Machine contained additional content. My previous review was based on the original story. A few days later, I came across a copy of the later, appended story. Here?s my impression of the additional material which adds an additional 25% to the beginning of the story?

    The new material adds a lot of background into Joe?s childhood and how Joe meets Billings and Hoskins. It really serves to flesh out Joe?s character and depicts his loneliness throughout his childhood. It also shows the creation of Bossy and the public?s panic reaction. This is what drives them into hiding, where the original tale begins.

    This new material is well worth the read and fits in nicely with the story. While it does not raise my rating of the book overall, it does not detract from it either.

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