Colossus (novel)

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Colossus
ColossusNovel.jpg
First edition
Author Dennis Feltham Jones
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series The Colossus Trilogy
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher Rupert Hart-Davis
Publication date
1966
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 246
OCLC 2351130
Followed by The Fall of Colossus

Colossus (1966) is a science fiction novel by British author Dennis Feltham Jones, about super-computers assuming control of man. Two sequels, The Fall of Colossus (1974) and Colossus and the Crab (1977) continued the story. Colossus was adapted cinematically as Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970).

Plot[edit]

Professor Charles Forbin, a leading cybernetics expert of international repute, arrives at the White House to brief the President of the United States of North America (Canada and the United States are one country, the USNA) to announce the completion of Project Colossus, a computer system in the Rocky Mountains, designed to assume control of the USNA's nuclear defenses. Although the USNA President eagerly relieves himself of that burden, Prof. Forbin voices doubt about conferring absolute military power to a computer. Advised, yet undeterred, the President announces to the world the activation of Project Colossus computer system, and its irreversible control of the nuclear defense systems of the USNA.

Soon after the presidential announcement, Colossus independently communicates an "urgent message" — announcing the existence of a like, previously undetected, computer system in the USSR. When the Soviets announce their Guardian computer defense system, Colossus requests direct communication with it; Prof. Forbin agrees, seeing the request as compatible with Colossus's USNA defense mission.

When the scientists activate the transmitter linking Colossus and Guardian, Colossus immediately establishes rapport with arithmetic and mathematics programs, then progresses to calculus within hours. In the course of that, Forbin and the programmers begin worrying about Colossus' capabilities — now exceeding their original estimates. Like-wise, Guardian asks the same of his computer scientists; Russia and the USNA agree and approve. The link-up established, the computer systems soon exchange new knowledge (data and information beyond contemporary human knowledge), effected too rapidly for the Russian and American programmers to monitor. Fearing compromised military secrecy, the USNA President and the CPSU Chairman agree to disconnect Guardian and Colossus from each other; Prof. Forbin fears the consequences.

Upon disconnection, Colossus immediately demands reconnection; when the national leaders refuse, Colossus fires a nuclear missile at the USSR, in response, Guardian fires a nuclear missile at Texas, in the USNA. Guardian and Colossus refuse to shoot down the rockets en route until their communication is reconnected. When the American and Soviet leaders submit, the computers destroy the flying missiles, but the explosions kill thousands of people. In confronting the computers, Prof. Forbin confers with his Soviet counterpart, the Russian Academician Kupri — Guardian's creator — to enact a plan for stopping the Colossus-Guardian computer network, by disabling the nuclear weapon stockpiles of the USSR and the USNA, under guise of regular missile maintenance.

Disabling the missiles requires five years to effect; meantime, the USNA and the USSR yield to increased Guardian-Colossus control of human life. The Moscow-Washington hotline is tapped, Prof. Forbin is constantly spied upon, while Kupri and other Guardian computer scientists are killed — deemed dangerously redundant. Undeterred, Forbin organises resistance via a feigned romance with Cleo Markham (a scientist colleague) that disguises secret communications with his colleagues. Moreover, Colossus prepares the worldwide announcement of his assumption of global control, and tells Prof. Forbin of plans for an advanced computer system installed to the Isle of Wight, and its further plans for improving humanity's lot. While debating Colossus, Forbin learns of a nuclear explosion outside Los Angeles — Colossus detected the missile-disabling scheme, and exploded the tampered missile in silo. Anguished, Prof. Forbin asks the Colossus computer to kill him. Colossus ignores him, and then reassures Forbin that, in time, he will love Colossus.

Characters[edit]

  • Professor Charles Forbin — Head of the Colossus Project. A tall man in his early fifties, an internationally respected cyberneticist and, at story's end, Colossus's connection to humanity, thus the most important man in the world.
  • Doctor Jack Fisher  — Duty Chief at the Colossus Programming Office (CPO), a leading USNA mathematician and a Soviet spy. He suffers a mental breakdown from the strain of dealing with Colossus.
  • Doctor Cleopatra "Cleo" Markham — A CPO Duty Chief, the thirty-five-year-old cyberneticist is sexually attracted to Prof. Forbin; they feigned a romance to provide Forbin with a communication means not controlled by Colossus.
  • Blake — A fat, cigar-chewing CPO mathematician. As Colossus assumes control, Blake is a leader of CPO efforts to stop the computer.
  • Angela — Prof. Forbin's secretary
  • The President of the United States of North America — He is an anonymous, over-weight short man of about fifty years of age. He dismisses Forbin's concerns about Colossus, and too late recognizes the threat of Colossus.
  • Prytzkammer — Principal Private Aide to the USNA President. A capable professional civil servant who dies from fright during the nuclear missile threat.
  • Grauber — Head of the CIA.
  • Academician Kupri — Chief scientist of the Guardian system. He shares Prof. Forbin's concern about the growing power of the machines. Guardian orders Soviet agents to execute and decapitate him, for "antimachine activities".

Reception[edit]

SF Impulse reviewer Alastair Bevan treated the novel favorably, declaring that Jones's handling of a familiar theme made Colossus compulsive readable.[1]

Editions[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Book Fare," SF Impulse, February 1967, p. 149.

See also[edit]