What was your first impression? This is a well nuanced story with the two fisted rough and tumble one expects from 1950s SF but there are a couple more thought provoking underlayers which don't become apparent until the ending twist.
Plot summary? Our hero, Con Maxwell, returns to his poverty stricken colony world after years on Earth for his advanced education. But the poverty is not due to lack of resources, it is the result of misdirected exploitation of what is available and ignorance of hidden treasures. But what is our hero to do with the geriatric stick in the muds?
The Junkyard Planet, which was the original title of the book, is similar to the aftermath of World War II which H. Beam Piper had to see. Billions were spent on material to fight the war and of course no one could predict when it would end. So when Germany and Japan finally surrendered there were tons and tons and tons of stuff no longer needed to fight the war. I have heard that usable Jeeps were pushed overboard into the Atlantic from ships returning from Europe so they would not depress the automobile market. The Depression had preceded WWII and everyone was worried about what would happen after the war.
So in part The Cosmic Computer is a retelling of post WWII America. Many of the characters are survivors of an interstellar civil war. The planet was used as a military base and when the war ended millions of tons of useless but functional military junk were left lying around or hidden in places that no one knew about. But even if someone in the next star system would buy the stuff how can you sell it if you don't have a starship? Well Con has his work cut out for him trying pick up a planet by its bootstraps. Now if those old fools would just stop chasing that non-existent computer then he might get it done.
What's the bottom line?
This story is a study in the psychology of economics and emotional fixations. It also shows how this culture can't get out from under the shadow of the fall of Rome.
The tale is available as a free audiobook from Librivox. The trouble with Librivox is that the recordings are made by volunteers and quality is quite variable. This one is quite decent however.
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A running theme in his work is that history repeats itself; past events will have direct and clear analogues in the future. The novel Uller Uprising is the clearest example of this, being based on the Sepoy Mutiny. A similarly clear example is the very name of Space Viking; although that novel is not a direct reinterpretation of a specific historical precedent, a later theme in the book involves the takeover of a planet in a manner reminiscent of the rise of Adolf Hitler.
Piper's characterization was rooted in the notion of the self-reliant man: an individual able to take care of himself and both willing and able to tackle any situation which might arise. This is perfectly exemplified in a bit of dialogue found in his short story "Oomphel in the Sky" (1960):
"He actually knows what has to be done and how to do it, and he's going right ahead and doing it, without holding a dozen conferences and round-table discussions and giving everybody a fair and equal chance to foul things up for him."
As a result, his yarns tend towards the heroic, and the conflict is usually driven externally.
Piper was interested in General Semantics. It is explicitly mentioned in Murder in the Gunroom, and its principles, such as awareness of the limitations of ...