The Transvection Machine by Edward D. Hoch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Oh no! Vander Defoe, the inventor of the new transvection machine that’s going to save humanity, has been murdered! At least that’s how it appears. He goes to the hospital to have his appendix removed and the mechanical surgeon causes blood to start spurting out at the first incision and the human nurse helping out can’t save him. Since Vander is one of the president’s cabinet members (of extraterrestrial defense?), it’s important to get to the bottom of things. So the CIB is called in. The CIB stands for Computer Investigation Bureau, and their director is Carl Crader. His younger sidekick is Earl Jazine. They head from NYC to DC to meet with the president and be briefed by his assistant, Maarten Tromp. There are possible paths they could follow, but where to start? Crader decides to return to New York to look for a criminal who has escaped a prison on Venus named Euler Frost. He was in prison for murder and had been hooked up with a revolutionary group of people dedicated to eradicating the world of the computers and machines that have taken over society. He sends Earl to investigate Vander’s wife, Gretel, and his ex-parter — and one of her lovers — Hubert Ganger. Turns out they had talked about killing Vander just that day, only they don’t tell Earl that. They deny all knowledge. That path is taken away. Earl goes to interview the nurse, thinking she had to have been the murderer since everyone knows machines can’t murder, can’t make mistakes, can’t screw up. She denies everything, says everything went by the book. He interviews her doctor supervisor who stands up for her and the hospital, again saying it couldn’t have been the machine. What now?
But what is the transvection machine, you ask? It’s a device that transports anything and anyone from one place to another, whether it’s in a room, different cities, or possibly even different planets. Vander is the only one who knows how it works and he’s proven it works by transvecting a monkey from Boston to another city and by transvecting a Chinese girl from the US to India. The government is seriously interested in his machine, because if it can be proven to transport people between planets safely, then they can populate Venus and beat the Russo-Chinese at it, the country that is dominating Venusian populating. But there’s a dark secret behind the transvection machine.
Crader is concerned about Frost, because apparently he escaped from Venus last week and could have made it back to earth in time to kill Vander. Turns out Frost is back. The author gives us the story from everyone’s vantage point throughout the novel, which is interesting, but at times a little irritating as well. And he does try to kill Vander, but his plot is foiled when one of his assistants appears and saves him from his unsuspecting death. A CIB researcher has found out that the revolutionary group Frost was a part of has actually grown during the time he was on Venus and is headquartered on a small Pacific island known for tourism. Crader decides to go there to look for Frost. On the way, he meets a minister and they strike up a friendship. The minister decides to stay on the island with him, so they can have a good time together. And that is his undoing. The minister is none other than the leader of HAND, this group, and he kidnaps Crader, but only to have him return to the president to relay a message to him, that Gloria Chang has gone over to their side. Crader does this and the message is meaningless to the president. But things are starting to make sense to Crader. And also to Earl. He sees the nurse creeping along the street by the new White House, seemingly hoping not to be found, and witnesses her meeting someone in a parking garage. The man she meets is the doctor. Earl confronts him and the doctor attacks him and escapes. Sometime later, the nurse re-enters the operating room to look at the machine, which couldn’t have done it, and is murdered. By whom? The machine again? Earl is at the hospital looking for her and encounters the doctor, who he confronts again. The doctor pleads innocence. Just then, Earl looks up and sees Vander’s ex-parter in hospital scrubs and takes off after him. Meanwhile, HAND is planning to destroy the computers at the Federal Medical Center, to spark a revolution against computers and technology everywhere. And Crader has had plenty of time to think about HAND’s motivations and has doubts about computers himself now.
And that’s all of the plot you’ll get from me! If you want to know who murdered Vander, if HAND succeeds in blowing up the Federal Medical Center, if a revolution is started, what happens to Frost, what happens to Crader, etc., you’ll have to get the book and read it yourself. It’s a very short book. I read it in a day. It’s an easy read too. The science is hogwash, but if you can get beyond that, it’s an enjoyable story. And Vander’s wife, soon to be ex, is a drug addled nympho, who’s pretty funny. My only real complaint about the book is that the author is SO anti-computer, SO anti-machine, SO anti-technology, that he beats it into your damn head virtually every damn page! It gets old very fast. Talk about beating a dead horse. And this is sci fi!!! I understand, however, that the author is actually a mystery writer, so maybe he was anti-technology. This was published many years ago. Who knows? It’s just damned annoying. Still, as a lightweight, escapist read, it’s fun. Somewhat recommended.