M. R. Gabriel (Mike the Angel) is the tall and wealthy head of a power generation company. He is also a reserve officer in the Space Patrol, and he is recalled to duty as to serve as chief engineer of the space vessel Branchell, which carries engines his company designed and built. It also carries a unique cargo, or perhaps it should be called a passenger, a computer/database/robot known as Snookums, which they are taking to a distant planet and a base that is being specially constructed to house it. It cannot be left on Earth. It is potentially far too dangerous. It knows much and has an insatiable curiosity to know more.
This novel deals with crime, revenge, religion, and the nature of knowledge. At the core, the plot is a whodunit. Mysterious things are happening aboard the Branchell, and a man is attacked. Another is murdered. Suspicion falls on Snookums, which has been behaving even more curious (in both senses of the word) than usual.
It is clear from the beginning that this is not a modern work of science fiction. It was written before modern computers or microchips, so the ‘brain’ of the device is far more massive than one might imagine today and requires cooling to near absolute zero. Most of the characters are male and everyone smokes. The only female character is a child psychologist (responsible for nurturing Snookums) who serves double duty as Gabriel’s love interest.
Despite the archaic sexist undertones, over respect for cultural sensitivities, and clunky technology, I found this to be a very enjoyable book. The characters are not deeply developed, but they are believable extrapolations from a mid Twentieth Century template.
The story unfolds well and provides a satisfying conclusion. I would recommend it to those who enjoyed Asimov’s Robot books and all fans of space opera. You can’t beat it for the price.