Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Dueling Machine: a Free Book review

The Dueling Machine (free audiobook here), written by Ben Bova with Myron R. Lewis, is a classic, early virtual-reality mystery/adventure.

I encountered Bova's sci-fi in the mid seventies; as usual, the later work isn't as good—I have a general rule not to trust written sci-fi after 1960 or certainly 1970—but his was reasonably good anyway. And the dust jackets always alluded to The Dueling Machine as if it was some kind of classic.

It is. It showed up on Gutenberg recently, and the audio version arrived soon after, so I finally got a look at the story. (I'm sure the actual book differs a bit from the Analog novella, but probably not much.)

As our story opens, mankind's interest in exploration and colonization has been overcome by the expense of colonizing and the realization that it's a whole lot more comfy on the couch at home, even if the rising population results in the government's micromanaging your life. This leads to general grumpiness.

It doesn't help when Dr. Albert Robertus Leoh invents a 3D communication system that somehow reaches across hundreds of light years instantaneously, severely irking the likes of Albert Einstein. So he invents the dueling machine: a virtual reality system that lets you and a mutual enemy kill each other thoroughly without actual harm to anyone.

Except that suddenly the hatchet man for an imperialistic dictator starts challenging people to duels they don't survive, with results that destabilize several worlds. Dr. Leoh is brought in to investigate, along with a Star Watchman, math geek, and klutz named Hector. Can they solve the mystery and thwart the bad guys before getting killed? (Because posthumous revenge isn't nearly as much fun as it sounds.)

I admit that I wondered at the lack of a panic button for duelists than would bail them out before they needed a change of clothes. That would have solved the whole thing. But that point aside, this is a good story. I should also mention that one of the deaths is recorded in considerable detail, which could be a bit intense for some readers.

The Dueling Machine:
Gutenberg e-text

LibriVox audiobook),

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