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The Forever Machine Mass Market Paperback – May, 1992
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"Crazy Joey" was first published as a short story in "Astounding Science Fiction" in August of 1953. It introduces the child Joe Carter to the reader. In it we learn that he is a lone telepath, who has learned to hide his abilities from others to avoid sticking out and becoming the target of hatred and violence. His mother takes him to the university to have him evaluated by specialists because of his unusual behavior. Dr. Martin is able to see through Joe's attempts to hide his ability.
"Hide! Hide! Witch!" was first published as a novelette in "Astounding Science Fiction" in December of 1953. In this story, we are introduced to the two scientists who will appear in the main novel (Dr. Jonathan Billings and Dr. Hoskins), and we are also introduced to Bossy. In this story, Dr. Billings is assigned by the government to produce a machine pilot which can handle vehicles that move at a quicker rate than humans. They have been told by specialists, that this would only be possible by duplicating the function of the human brain. Dr. Billings, who had been told of Joe Carter by Dr. Martin, knew that the best person for the job would be a telepath. Dr. Billings puts together a team of specialists from many areas, and Joe helps them communicate by manipulating their minds without their knowledge. The team puts together Bossy, but before it can be complete, the public learns of their attempt to "replace man", and they are forced to go into hiding.
"The Forever Machine (also known as "They'd Rather Be Right") was first published as a serial in "Astounding Science Fiction" from August through November of 1954. This forms the largest part of the story, which is titled "Bossy" in this edition of the book. It was also published as a stand alone novel in 1957. In 1955 it won the second Hugo ever awarded for best novel, and is considered by many to be the worst novel ever to win the award. It has often been out of print, and even when it has been in print the novel has not always been complete, and these two problems have not helped its reputation.
The novel picks up where "Hide! Hide! Witch!" leaves off and covers the completion and testing of the machine, Bossy. The machine does much more than they ever intended, and it is able to get inside the mind of other people and to correct the ailments of man by removing the biases which have built up over the person's lifetime. This process has the amazing effect of rejuvenating the person undergoing the treatment, as well as give that person telepathic abilities. One of the limitations of the machine is that the person has to be willing to give up their biases, a trait which exists in the less fortunate elements of society. When the public becomes aware of the abilities, there is a power struggle between governments and business to control the new technology.
I do not have as low of an opinion of this book as some others. While the science is somewhat far-fetched, the concept of the human mind having a big impact on health is certainly valid, even if the authors do take it to the extreme. The characters, in general, are weak except for a few sections where the authors are trying to make a specific point, and the story does feel dated in several parts. On the positive side, it is a very readable story, and is worth reading for those interested in the history of science fiction.
The question that really comes to mind is "Why did this win the Hugo?" There is no clear answer to this question, and a much more obvious choice would have been Edgar Pangborn's "A Mirror for Observers", which was written the same year and won the International Fantasy Award. One reason this book might have been the winner is that it is a more controversial book. The story challenges the readers to look at their own prejudices and biases and the ill effects they may be having on their lives.
The story: Little "Crazy Joe" Carter is a telepath - an honest-to-goodness mind-reader. Unfortunately, since there is no scientific theory that can support the notion of telepathy, and in the highly politicized scientific commnuity of this future world, his abilities are dismissed the evidence ignored. Only a few free-thinkers accept the evidence, and they dare not discuss their results. This suits Joe fine, and he is eventually brought to a (fictional) U.S. university where he works on a military-sponsored artificial intellegence project. Through Joe's subtle manipulation of the team's feelings and prejudices, he allows pychologists, computer scientists, engineers, etc. to work in harmony to create "Bossy." They then feed all human knowledge into her and discover that through Bossy-directed therapy, people are "reborn" - physically fit, stripped of prejudice, and with their inate telepathic ability activated.
Much of this territory has been re-covered since this novel has been published (just watch a few episodes of Star Trek!), and it's often covered better. But I still enjoyed this prototypical study of the human brain proceeding (aided by Bossy) through its next step of evolution. Clifton and Riley are unforgiving in their depiction of modern man - we are all prejudiced, only about different things. We can be stampeded by effective propeganda to do obviously foolish things. We would "rather be right" in our own convictions than be shown a better way, even to the detriment of our health, prosperity, etc.
On the surface, the closest analogy I can think of is the Simpson's episode "Lisa the Skeptic", wherein a skeleton that looks like an angel is found and the townspeople go on an anti-science riot. A thoughtful reader will perhaps be able to look past the preaching and appreciate the message the authors are trying to convey: No one has a monopoly on the Truth, so don't be afraid to question your assumptions.