(Original Review, 1980-11-28)
In response to a SF fan query about computers that can interpret law, I just finished "Why Call Them Back from Heaven" by Clifford Simak. Although a minor feature of the story, the law of the land dictates the use of jury trials in which the jury is a machine. A couple of paragraphs is devoted to a discussion of how the use of machines has caused lawyers to stick strictly to the letter of the law and objective facts instead of the "sympathy tricks" and other appeals to emotion that are often used in modern day jury trials. (I once saw a TV show where someone sat on a jury for a civil suit and I was amazed by the fact that no one in the courtroom seemed to want the jury to hear the actual FACTS of the case. A lot of mumbo-jumbo about if this or that information was admissible without the jury finding out what the information was. Also, seemed that the lawyers' chief job was to KEEP certain info from becoming known!! And oh the theatrics of the lawyer for the plaintiff!! Truly a thing to behold.) Anyway, this gives me as good as excuse as any to give a mini review of WCTBfH (a book I picked up after reading the name in a friend’s SF list) All in all I thought it was pretty good. It did a better job of describing a possible future world than it did in characterizations. In this sense it reminded me of "The Man in the High Castle" (correct name?) by Philip K. Dick. The world that was described was a very interesting one. In general, I like SF that attempts to be philosophically thought provoking instead of merely portraying a lot of action in an alien environment (space westerns, for example). The greatest shortcoming of the story, in my opinion, is that the reader is asked to believe some rather unbelievable coincidences that just happen to bring the main characters back together at unpredictable times. Also, the ending wraps up all the loose ends in about 2 pages that needed 170 pages to lead up to. All in all, though, NOT RECOMMENDED. I would like to finish this message with a totally unrelated query. Can anyone point me in the direction of "Venus on the Half-shell"? Is this a real book? And if so, who is the author and what is the publishing firm, etc.? I have read just about everything by Kurt Vonnegut and would like to tie up this loose end in my reading.
[2018 EDIT: "Venus on the Halfshell" by Kilgore Trout is a science fiction novel mentioned in several of Vonnegut's novels. At the time that Vonnegut wrote those novels, VotH was simply a prop from his imaginary universes. Since then however, P. J. Farmer wrote a book published as "Venus on the Halfshell" by Kilgore Trout (Farmer’s pseudonym). It follows the descriptions and situations given by Vonnegut quite closely. It is also part of general series of realizations of "imaginary" books and references being done by Farmer. How I wish I had proper Internet back then…]
[2018 EDIT: This review was written at the time as I was running my own personal BBS server. Much of the language of this and other reviews written in 1980 reflect a very particular kind of language: what I call now in retrospect a “BBS language”.]