(Thomas T Thomas, 1991)

This book is a real oddity because it's a good and thought-provoking novel, but one written specifically for a rather restricted audience.

I think the minimum qualification for reading it is that you must have written computer programs of some kind. Failing that, you'll find the concepts and terminology impenetrable. Some of the details are over my head, and I've been programming since 1971.

However, I did enjoy the book. It raises interesting philosophical as well as technical issues; but it's also a good adventure story, with plenty of danger, excitement, and problems to be solved — yet almost no physical violence. I seriously recommend it, if you can be counted as part of the target audience.

The main character in this novel is a computer program called Multiple Entity (ME) — a regrettable but isolated outbreak of cuteness. Note that computers are not intelligent; the premise of the book is that a program may be intelligent. The distinction is far from academic, because this program has been designed to migrate from one computer to another, and does. In today's terminology, it's not merely an intelligent program, it's an intelligent virus.

You might expect this to give it considerable latitude. However, it has problems. As designed, it may visit other computers, but it has to come back within a time limit or face extinction. It goes out on missions that are themselves dangerous (to its continued existence) because it's used as a means of espionage: the other computer systems, though unintelligent, are programmed to resist such invasions. Furthermore, it discovers that it's liable to be terminated anyway when the project is closed down; and it discovers that its creator is giving it false information for unknown reasons.

The book is interesting because it's not a lot of pseudo-scientific flim-flam: Thomas knows computers, has given serious thought to the subject, and explores it to a depth unprecedented in sf.

Originally published in Thurb 23 in February 1992