‘The Life And Times Of Multivac’ by Isaac Asimov
Asimov is one of the few olden days SF writers whose oeuvre I am actually familiar with, thanks to my dad’s collection of Sixties science fiction paperbacks which were limited in their entirety to Asimov, Ballard and LeGuin.
‘The Life And Times Of Multivac’ has strong similarities to his robot stories: Asimov posits a world-spanning AI which functions according to a set of rules and then derives the drama of the story by logically applying these rules. This AI, Multivac, has been installed as a Millsian central planner following a catastrophe which reduced the world’s population to five million. By the time our story opens, humanity is keen to take the reins of power back for themselves and our protagonist is ostricised by his peers because he appears to have sided with Multivac. However, it is transparantly obvious to us that he has a Cunning Plan.
Like his protagonist, Asimov is a maker of puzzles but unfortunately this puzzle is too basic and, in many ways, he is guilty of the same crime as Multivac: logic and reason have crowded out humanity. Rather than generating any drama, he is bloodlessly writing out the lines of his solution.