Book Report: Supercomputer by Edward Packard (1984)

When I saw this Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book at the library for a quarter, I knew I had to have it. I mean, sure, it’s a children’s book, but what child in 2005 reads anymore, and how can they understand what it meant to the previous generation? I mean, I’ve got the equivalent of the title character in my closet because it’s no longer powerful enough to run the latest operating systems.

No, you damn kids, you’ve always had computers and game consoles. I remember reading this particular volume as a boy in the housing projects. We couldn’t afford an Atari, much less the Tandys displayed in the Sunday paper color inserts. Granted, I had no exposure to real computers or even Ataris at that point, but I read lots of books, and computers seemed cool.

So in that world without video games, we had Choose Your Own Adventures. You get a page or two introductory text and a question of what you would do next. Each question had two or more answers with pointers to other pages, and you would flip to the page of your chosen action and continue with another page or so of action before coming to another decision. CYOA were the FPS of the first Reagan Administration, werd. Each book had numerous paths and 20 or so different endings, some happy and some not, and sometimes the action was recursive, but each book allowed you to read it a couple of different ways and a couple of different times. By the time all was said and done, really you only had a short story sized text, but it was an interesting means of passing time. Choose Your Own Adventures were the most popular line, but other publishers picked up the concept.

This particular adventure begins when you win a computer-programming (note the quaint hyphen!) contest and receive a Genecomp A1 32 sixth generation computer, serial number 2183 and answering to the name Conrad. Conrad’s no ordinary computer; his artificial intelligence can make you millions of dollars, make you happy for a brief moment, or help you communicate with the Soviet premier or bottle-nosed dolphons.

Yeah, I bought it, and I read through it a couple of times for old time’s sake. Of course, we don’t name our computers anymore (HAL, Edgar, Conrad, you were doomed by the 1990s), but these books inspired my imagination. When I finally got access to an old Apple II through school, 20 input "What would you like to do now?" closely followed 10 print "Hello, world!" (DRL! Maybe that’s Commodore 64’s BASIC 2.0 and not AppleBasic).

So is it worth the quarter? I reckon if you’re an old school geek. You might be able to sucker a kid into reading it, but he or she will find this particular book in the series more dated than others.

1 thought on “Book Report: Supercomputer by Edward Packard (1984)

  1. I totally forgot about Choose Your Own Adventure books, I loved reading them when I was a kid. It was a quarter well spent.

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