By the time D. F. Jones published Colossus, his first and arguably best novel, the concept of an ultimate computer or machine controlling humankind had become a cliché; it was a staple in science-fiction comic books a decade earlier. Perhaps the classic story in this vein is Fredric Brown’s 1954 “The Answer,” in which an ultimate computer is asked whether there is a deity and replies, “Yes, now there is a God.” Isaac Asimov raised a computer to godlike status as well in one of his favorites of his own short stories, “The Last Question” (1956). Jones used the theme so definitively in Colossus that his novel remains perhaps the most familiar example, possibly helped by its 1969 British film version, Colossus, the Forbin Project (released in the United States as The Forbin Project).
Like its sequels, Colossus is a talky book, with much of the conversation between Forbin and Colossus. They engage in philosophical and ethical arguments over Colossus’ utterly logical but ruthless actions and Forbin’s emotional reactions to them. Colossus’ arguments generally come down to the desirability of killing a few people now to save more later. The reader has reason to hope for a happy ending throughout but, at the end, Colossus triumphs and Forbin, before his death, becomes almost a slave to his creation.
Jones, a British writer who was a Royal Navy officer during World War II, wrote mostly downbeat novels such as Implosion (1967), in which the world’s few fertile women become a part of a rigid government; Denver Is Missing (1971; published in England as Don’t Pick the Flowers), about the destruction of that city; and...
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