|The Cosmic Computer|
|H. Beam Piper
Hardback 225 pages
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The planet Poictesme was the headquarters of the Terran Federation Third Army-Fleet during the war against the System States Alliance. While Federation commander General Foxx Travis was preparing for the final phase of th war, his plans came to a sudden halt when the System States unexpectedly surrendered. With the fighting over, the Federation Third-Army Fleet no longer needed to stay on Poictesme and suddenly departed, leaving behind war ships, fabrication centers, ammunition depots and supply caches. Almost as fast as the Federation forces abandoned Poictesme, the economy imploded, resultingg in a poverty-stricken agricultural society with only a few exports, melon-brandy, tobacco and war surplus, which sold for only a fraction of its pre-war value.
Persisting over the decades after the Federation's departure was the legend of Merlin, the super-computer which was credited with having planned the grand strategy which successfully concluded the System States War. Was there a real super-computer, one that devised the Terran Federation's overall strategy against the System States Alliance, or was it simply a myth? The inhabitants of the ramshackle world of Poictesme believe it still exists and will save them: "Merlin's a religion with those people. Merlin's a robot god, something they can shove all their problems onto. As soon as they find Merlin, everybody will be rich and happy, the Government bonds will be redeemed at face value plus interest, the paper money'll be worth a hundred Federation centisols to the sol, and the leaves and wastepaper will be raked off the Mall, all by magic."
When young Conn maxwell returns to Poictesme from Earth, with a university degree in computer science, he has strong doubts that Merlin was anything more thana war-time myth. Furthermore, he believes that finding the super-computer - if by some miracle it does exist - might be the worst thing that could possibly happen to his home world.