So I read this book several years ago and now I'm trying to remember the name. I know this is a fairly vague description but I'm hoping it's enough for someone to catch on and help me.

I know this isn't exactly in order and I honestly can't even remember if it was a trilogy or not but here goes.

Set in the future, humans had built an AI controlled space based weapon. Somehow the AI malfunctioned and now destroys anything that flies higher than a few hundred feet over the ground. There are also many human factions, many at war with each other but what I remember best about one is they have human "calculators" who work in a factory with a abacuses. At least two sets of railroads are in use, due to disagreement between two factions. Dolphins are now sentient/telepathic and rule the oceans. At one point, there are prop-plane battles going between 2 factions but I can't remember if this is before or after someone manages to destroy the space weapon.

Thank you again for taking time to read and try to help me remember! If i'm lucky I didn't pass the book along and still have it at home but I'm pretty sure I did.

  • I've never read it, but the bit about dolphins makes me think this might be Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
    – amflare
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 16:28
  • This definitely isn't the Hitchhiker's Guide series, nor is it David Brin's Uplift books, which also had sentient dolphins and a lot of conflict (but not this kind). A human spreadsheet figured in Vernor Vinge's The Witling, but it doesn't match any of the rest.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 16:30
  • Thanks but it's not that :/ It's entirely possible my memory is adding the dolphins from another series. I'm hoping either it's still on my shelf at home or the person I gave many books to still has it. It's going to bug me all day!
    – Andrew
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 16:31

1 Answer 1


Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen, published in 1999, apparently the first book in a trilogy (although this first book was first released in two parts as Voices in the Light and Mirrorsun Rising in 1994 and 1995 respectively).

Souls in the Great Machine - book cover

Stop me if you've heard this one before: in Australia in the distant, post-apocalyptic future, a continent-wide Siren-like Call wreaks havoc on society, and electricity is banned by EMP orbital platforms. But an ingenious and ruthless librarian reinvents computers by using prisoners as components. With it, she...


Characters get all over the place, they change quickly and sometimes mysteriously, and the plot gets bogged down with some minor side-plots that don't really go anywhere. (Having made it to the end, I still don't care about railroad gauge differences, dammit.)

Found by searching for science fiction book war "railroad gauge"

And yes, according to Google Books, there are dolphins that seem to have a bargaining position with humanity.

  • 1
    That's it! Thank you!
    – Andrew
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 17:09

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