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Friborg, Albert C. – “Careless Love” (1954)

09/24/2013

In which nuclear war with Russia has left most of the United States living in huge underground bunkers, and the war effort is led by the Harvard Mark Fifty-Four, a supercomputer named for a college that only a few people could remember having seen, “in a corner of the continent where nothing had lived since the first rockets came over the pole.” We’re given glimpses of the hellish new world, but only through dialogue taking place in New Washington: as all production is focused on war materials, the population is undernourished, undereducated, and unfulfilled; bacteria and radioactivity have destroyed the country’s fresh air and green fields; Russia has taken to strewing around packets of heroin via rocket; births are down while illegal abortions are up; and so on. Our protagonist is the supercomputer’s handler, who refers to it lovingly as “Dinah” (shades of Leiber’s “Maisie”), and who oversees her reallocation from war to figuring out how to solve the mass neuroses of the population. In introducing her to the human spirit, though, she is also introduced to “love” and decides that the cure for her loneliness lies with her closest counterpart in the world: the Russian supercomputer. The two of them shoot all their rockets into space, blow up all the gunpowder in the world, drive all their tanks into the ocean, and elope together into orbit around Saturn. Aside from the usual over-reliance on dialogue, one of the stronger entries this year.

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