Randomize: Dazzling science doesn’t make up for a mundane plot

Randomize by Andy Weir science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsRandomize by Andy Weir science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsRandomize by Andy Weir

Nick Chen is an IT guy on a mission: when quantum computers become available to consumers, he tries to convince the managers at the Babylon Hotel and Casino where he works to shut down their keno lounge, knowing that quantum computers can quickly crack the random-number generators of the keno game system. When he fails to persuade them, he uses his override passwords to shut down the keno game, which quickly gets the attention of Edwin Rutledge, the head of the casino. Eventually convinced by Chen’s arguments, Rutledge authorizes Chen to buy the casino its own quantum computer for $300,000 (“We fight quantum with quantum”).

A couple of days later, a new QuanaTech quantum computer is delivered and installed by a salesman, Chen sets up airtight security systems around it, and all is now well with the Babylon keno game … or, perhaps not. It turns out that the QuanaTech salesman is married to a brilliant physicist, who has an idea for an ingenious way to game the system.

Andy Weir is still riding on the coattails of The Martian‘s fame, but I’m getting dubious that he’ll ever recapture that same magic. Randomize (2019) doesn’t do it. Weir tries to dazzle your eyes with lots of geeky science talk about quantum computing and pseudorandom number generation and entangled qbits, and how that would affect the massive Las Vegas gambling industry. But once you clear away all the sparkly physics details, at its heart this is just a heist story, and not a particularly compelling one.

Weir does give his characters a few memorable characteristics: Rutledge is deeply status-conscious and mistrusts anyone who won’t drink with him; the QuanaTech salesman and his wife, Prashant and Sumi Singh, are an Indian couple in an arranged marriage that has worked out rather well, but they want to escape their financial worries; Nick Chen is a nerd who cares about his new quantum computer more than his co-workers’ — or his own — comfort. However, the characterization feels perfunctory; with the exception of Sumi, the characters are all readily recognizable types. The heist plan is overly-complex from a physics point of view but the actual execution of the plan is so simple as to be an eyebrow-raiser. The ending of this novella was amusing but underwhelming.

Randomize is part of the FORWARD collection proposed and curated by Blake Crouch. It’s a set of six stand-alone novellas, each by a different author, that explore the “effects of a pivotal technological moment.” The authors are Crouch, N.K. Jemisin, Veronica Roth, Amor Towles, Paul Tremblay and Andy Weir. The individual novellas are reasonably priced and available in ebook and audio form individually or as a set.

Published in September 2019. In the near future, if Vegas games are ingeniously scam-proof, then the heists have to be too, in this imaginative and whip-smart story by the New York Times bestselling author of The Martian. An IT whiz at the Babylon Casino is enlisted to upgrade security for the game of keno and its random-number generator. The new quantum computer system is foolproof. But someone on the inside is no fool. For once the odds may not favor the house—unless human ingenuity isn’t entirely a thing of the past. Andy Weir’s Randomize is part of Forward, a collection of six stories of the near and far future from out-of-this-world authors. Each piece can be read or listened to in a single thought-provoking sitting.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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