The Colossus Trilogy by D. F. Jones

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(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

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 Earth Has Been Found (1979; published in England as Xemo), an alien invasion story.

The Colossus trilogy turns into an alien invasion story with its second volume, in which the anti-Colossus faction on Earth is contacted over a conventional radio by a voice from Mars offering help in overthrowing the machine’s rule. Forbin’s colleague, Ted Blake, is more a man of action than is Forbin, but his actions are largely ineffective in comparison to those of the more thoughtful Forbin. After Martian procedures have been used to wipe out Colossus’ memory banks, Blake is ready to move into the void left by the collapse of machine rule by military force, much like the artillery man portrayed in the 1938 Mercury Theater radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1898). The plan to save the world falls apart when it appears that the Martians will replace Colossus and be even less enlightened rulers. The second book ends with a chilling repeated radio broadcast: “Forbin . . . We are coming. We are coming.”

The arrival of the two sentient Martian moons, as machinelike in their logic as was Colossus, starts the third book. Forbin continues as the...

(The entire section is 710 words.)