by Philip K Dick
I first read Vulcan’s Hammer back the mid-1970s, at the tender age of 11. It was in fact the first real Sci-Fi novel I ever read, having up until then contented myself with short stories and comics. Re-reading it now, the science is very dated, it being first published in 1960, but the story has a timelessness that over rides this.
In the immediate aftermath of a nuclear war, mankind turns to large computer systems – Vulcan – to make all the decisions and manage a global society. The idea is, apparently, to put an end to war. But by the start of the book, some people are turning their backs on the structure and lies of Unity (the global authority) and turning to a new group, the Healers, to bring about change.
Philip K Dick is a good storyteller who just happens to write science fiction. Vulcan’s Hammer has elements of a thriller with plenty of action and intrigue. But it also poses questions about artificial intelligence in a rational and thought provoking way.
Even in an age when commuters and the internet are all around us embedded in our everyday lives, the thought of handing over the mechanisms of government to machines is frightening. Imaging how that would have felt to readers in the 1960s and 70s!
I am so glad I tracked this book down again after all those years. Now I have it, I won’t be so quick to let it go again.