The Machine Starts by Greg Bear

Welcome back! I hope all my American friends had a lovely Thanksgiving. My family went up to my parents’ house and I got to see my sister and brother and the kids got to play with cousins. The weather was a bit cold and rainy, but the kids still went out to play football. Fun was had all around! And now, back to book reviews. Or, since it’s Monday, a short story review. I’m back to reviewing a story from Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft, this one by Greg Bear. He’s written quite a few science fiction books, and won lots of awards, but I haven’t had the pleasure of reading anything by him yet.

Published: 2015

Genre: science fiction

Setting: near future American city

Summary: The narrator works for a company trying to develop the first working quantum computer. They’ve had two failed attempts, but are hopeful the latest, bigger version will function correctly. The chief of the project decides to try something different and consider what they thought to be errors to instead by off-phase echoes between the braided qubits. Incorporating them into the programming makes the quantum computer work, but it also brings about an unintended consequence. Copies of the people on the project keep showing up from alternate dimensions in the multiverse, and those two copies disappear if they see each other. The story finishes with our narrator driving away, looking for a place no other copy of his will also look to be in.

Final thoughts: I wasn’t as impressed with this story. For one thing, the technical jargon got pretty thick when the project managers talked about the quantum computer. Quantum mechanics definitely makes my head hurt. Unfortunately, the story wasn’t compelling enough for me to forgive the jargon. I didn’t really understand what the narrator’s role in the company was. He mentioned several times that he wasn’t as smart as everyone else (in fact, that’s how the story started, which kind of put me off from the narrator from the start), and seemed to be around just to keep people happy. Then we have the problem of multiple copies of yourself appearing in the world and no one does anything about it. Everyone just goes on as if life were fine. How do you even know which copy is the original? And what happens if the original and a copy see each other? Do they both disappear, or does the world’s original get to stay? The narrator seemed to think both disappear. He at least tried to react to the copies, but only by running away. It probably didn’t help I’m reading a novel about computer programming at the same time, so I’m computered out at the moment.

Title comes from: They started up the quantum computer and finally got it to work in this story.



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