Randomize – by Andy Weir

After reading Emergency Skin I decided to take a look to the other stories of the Forward series. I already knew Andy Weir for his deservedly popular The Martian, where he had managed to squeeze an engaging plot out of a manual on space survival – so, how well is he doing in this different format?

Title: Randomize

Author: Andy Weir

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Publication Date: 17th September 2019

Genre: Science Fiction

Length: 32 pages

Standalone or Series: Standalone (included in Forward, a collection of entirely independent stories by different authors).

Synopsis: In a near future, quantum computers have become available to consumers, which ends up posing a threat to the gambling industry, – a fact that Babylon Casino’s IT guy struggles to explain to his manager. Eventually, he succeeds at making his point, shutting down the system and subsequently persuading him that they need to buy their own quantum computer, lest others will be able to cheat by quickly cracking their old style random-number generators. Thus, a state-of-the-art QuanaTech computer is acquired – to “fight quantum with quantum” and ensure the casino’s profits. The QuanaTech salesman, however, is married to a brilliant physicists with more ambition than scruples, who has her own supposedly ingenious plan.

Analysis: Randomize is written in a clear but unremarkable prose – indeed, the kind of sci-fi writing that leaves the spotlight enirely to its content; the story is told in third person, picking up whatever point of view allows the author to better showcase the required information.

The main selling point of this story – the only one, I dare say – is indeed in its geeky talk about quantum computers and their potential. Under this perspective, Randomize does a fairly good job at explaining its core concepts and possible consequences. Now, I lack the expertise to judge whether the underlying science is indeed reliable, but the way it is written it does come across as grounded and realistic. Weir shows us how a very specific field could be affected by such technological development, leaving us wondering how many other ramifications it could have on other activities, businesses, aspects of daily life.

Now, the chosen setting isn’t exactly random, instead it doubles as a pretext to write the high tech version of a classical heist story, ideally adding some thrill and favour to what otherwise might as well have been a piece of popular science.

Which sounds like a great idea, except its execution is a bit underwhelming. The alledgedly ingenious plot, in fact, comes across as stilted and contrived; instead of admiring how its pieces inevitably fall into place, we see how each step is forced to happen just because the story requires it, none of them feeling as clever as it’s claimed to be. As for the charactes, they have just enough personality to make the story work – which is acceptable in a short piece like this, but doesn’t help adding juice to the fairly drab storytelling.

Conclusions & Recommendations: If you enjoy hard sci-fi and are intrigued by quantum computers, you’re probably the target audience for this story. Personally I prefer my geeky info dumps with a more inpsired side serving of storytelling, so it wasn’t all that satisfactory to me.

Content Warning: Racism

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