The Cosmic Computer

Cover image for


Author: H. Beam Piper
Published: 1963
Language: English
Wordcount: 65,423 / 200 pg
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 80.3
LoC Category: PS
Downloads: 10,517
Added to site: 2007.03.03 16185
License: ©

Conn Maxwell returns from Terra to his poverty-stricken home planet of Poictesme, “The Junkyard Planet”, with news of the possible location of Merlin, a military super-computer rumored to have been abandoned there after the last war. The inhabitants hope to find Merlin, which they think will be their ticket to wealth and prosperity. But is Merlin real, or just an old rumor? And if they find it will it save them, or tear them apart? (Unrenewed copyright. Also published with the title Junkyard Planet.)

Show Excerpt

The old Rebel cursed. "Gehenna of a big crop; we're up to our necks in melons. This time next year we'll be washing our feet in brandy."

"Hold onto it and age it; you ought to see what they charge for a drink of Poictesme brandy on Terra."

"This isn't Terra, and we aren't selling it by the drink," Colonel Zareff said. "We're selling it at Storisende Spaceport, for what the freighter captains pay us. You've been away too long, Conn. You've forgotten what it's like to live in a poor-house."

The cargo was coming off, now. Cask staves, and more cask staves. Zareff swore bitterly at the sight, and then they started toward the wide doors of the shipping floor, inside the Airlines Building. Outgoing cargo was beginning to come out; casks of brandy, of course, and a lot of boxes and crates, painted light blue and bearing the yellow trefoil of the Third Fleet-Army Force and the eight-pointed red star of Ordnance. Cases of rifles; square boxes of ammunition; crated auto-cannon. Conn turned to hi


Average Rating of 4.2 from 5 reviews: *****

A story about the search for Merlin - a super computer once used for military purposes.

Does it exist or is it a fable? Citizens have strong opinions both ways. They have even stronger opinions about the potential social, economic, political, and religious impacts of finding - or not finding - Merlin.

As I progressed through this book, I thought at times that I might be reading an economics text, an article from the Wall St. Journal, construction and engineering plans, personnel allocation reports, police reports ... you get the idea - LOTS of what seems to be excessive detail.

But after finally working through it all and completing the book I must admit that it was a pretty good read.


This book was a surprisingly great read. Despite being written in the high of the cold war, this book isn't bogged down the typical preachy stance and concentrates on some interesting ideas and presents a fascinating economic environment. It presents some surprises, and leaves the reader wanting more. Needless to say, I was impressed. If your into SciFi, this is a gem.

This is my first H. Beam Piper book. It combines a survivalist tale on a backwater planet with an epic quest for high technology that leads to "Starship Troopers" style hi-technology air and space combat that reads like a pre Cold War style Tom Clancy thriller!

Brilliant fiction writing that's way ahead of its time.

Rich Matarese

Grown from the short story "Graveyard of Dreams," The Cosmic Computer is an element in H. Beam Piper's terrohuman future history series, with specific attention on the beginning of the end for the Federation.

The story begins decades after a massive orgy of authoritarianism, in which the Federation had fought an interstellar war to suppress the secession of a number of human-settled star systems, inflicting upon its remaining member populations (as well as the conquered worlds) enormous devastation, both military and economic. The people of one loyalist star system had enjoyed the heated artificial "prosperity" of serving as the logistic hinge of the Federation offensive, followed now by a dismal and long-sustained interplanetary postwar "bust."

Thus the stage is set for an effort on the part of the largely abandoned locals to construct for themselves some kind of viable economy out of the discarded resources wasted by the Federation in this foolish reconquista.

Piper proves here his insight into macroeconomics while providing well-paced action in his plotting and the wholly credible characters through whom he tells this story. All elements function believably within the context the writer has created for them, and those familiar with Piper's structured future history series of novels and shorter fiction will find in The Cosmic Computer an important component of the great galaxy-spanning multi-millennial tale he had devised and presented through the 1950s and 1960s.


Conn Maxwell has left his planet of Poictesme to train as a computer specialist in the Terran Federation. He returns depressed to his home town of Lichfield, aware that the economy is in a sorry state. Terran Federation has had a war with and outplanet alliance and Poictesme was prepared to fight off a major offensive which never came. Poectesme has been left as a backwater. Conn decides to use all the military hardware abandoned by Terra and outfit ships to sell it offworld along with other unique local products. The book is then taken up with the trade affairs of the poictesme; who finances the endeavor, where they will get the material, how to fight the outlaws that control spaceports where ships and hardware are abandoned.....

Overriding the capitalism and trade issues is the almost mystic belief that the Terran Federation has created an omniscient computer named the Merlin Project to help with the war, which if found, could resolve and help with all the local problems-even run the government and define religion in the view of some fringe groups. There is a suspicion it is on or near Poictesme. Does it exist, or is it just a myth? Will they find it? What will they ask it if they do? What might it do or say? Conn has some info about the project (or lack of a project) that he learned on Terra that he is keeping close to the vest.....

Comment: This is an interesting story but it is divided between the computer quest and the somewhat bogged down space business affairs. Fans of galactic empire building computer games may like it, But in my view, there is much too much "who did what" to get money or manage assets in the stock market to allow the purchase or outfitting of yet another ship. Almost gets like a Tolstoy novel trying to keep the characters straight. Otherwise worth a read.

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