Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Book Review: The Probability Corner

Book Review: 'The Probability Corner' by Walt and Leigh Richmond

1 / 5 Stars

‘The Probability Corner’ (177 pp) was published by Ace Books in September 1977. The cover artist is uncredited.

I picked up ‘Corner’ with an eye towards seeing if it was an undiscovered gem of a proto-cyberpunk novel. 

It isn’t. 

In fact, it’s pretty bad…..

The novel is set in the late 70s in Minnesota, where a mainframe computer in a corporation that does top-secret work for the government shows signs of having been hacked by enemies unknown. A trio of FBI agents is assigned to investigate.

Nearby, a young teenage genius named Oley discovers that he is ‘receiving’ thoughts of breakthrough technologies, including energy modulating coil assemblies, and a pedal-powered ultralight airplane. In his workshop - a converted fallout shelter - Oley begins work on assembling the equipment whose images and designs he has 'received.'

The two separate plot lines gradually converge, and it becomes increasingly clear that a new type of human-computer interface has been created – one that allows a newly formed AI to ‘telepathically’ communicate with young people. This Apple II – era Singularity is in peril, however, because an overzealous FBI agent is convinced that Oley and his young friends are the hackers who have compromised federal secrets……

‘Corner’ could have been an interesting novel despite its rather far-fetched premise; unfortunately, the husband-and-wife team of Walt and Leigh Richmond are intent on using the novel as an advertisement for ‘The Centric Foundation’. 

According to the relevant entry in Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature: A Checklist, 1700-1974, Volume II (1979), edited by R. Reginald,

Accordingly, much of the content of 'Corner' is devoted to expounding - in tedious passages of pedantic dialogue - on the philosophy of The Centric Foundation, which, at best, sounds like a bad version of the hokey physics showcased in such 70s touchstone New Wave books as The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters

These dialogue passages are really awful - Oley the 70s teen refers to people and concepts which he dislikes as 'nits', his older sister Hilda refers to him as 'Afterthought', and the discourses on computer programming are little more than gobbledygook - for example, there are references to the 'physical brain and psionic brain' that defines our intellect. It's the sort of pretentious language that is used by people who have done some Reading on the Subject, but don't really know what they are talking about.
The verdict ? 'The Probability Corner' is a not an undiscovered gem of a proto-cyberpunk novel....... It's a dud ! Stay away from this one.


Anonymous said...

Can I ask: Why you read and review these books when you don't seem to enjoy them very much. I don't blame you for not liking them because most don't look particularly good. But I am curious as to your motivation for wading through them.

tarbandu said...

You never know.....the first 90 % of a book might be pretty awful, only to redeem itself with some outstanding final chapter(s).....so that's why I wade through them. Although I must say, those books that redeem themselves with their final chapters are very, very rare.....