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.