I am trying to remember the name of a book and possibly series I read back early-mid 90's.

The protagonist is a teenage boy, with a mum, dad, and I think a sister. He finds or owns a laptop that has a sentient AI inside it and helps him with his adventures giving him advice and helping him solve problems.

At one point his mother needs money, she also likes to bet on horses. The computer absorbs all the race results of the last year (I think from copies of the racing post being placed on it) and comes up with the answer.

Pretty sure it is also set in the UK

I think there is also a plot line with a villain he has to beat and the threat at one point that the laptop will be destroyed.


There's the "Tom's Amazing Machine" by Gordon Spell

Tom and his cousin Emma are given a school project about life in their town 400 years ago. With Zenda the talking computer's help they decipher an old singing-game and an ancient map, and discover that their town used to be the headquarters for a gang of highwaymen.

Looking at the cover it doesn't seem to be laptop, but snippets from the Growing Point review appear to mention gambling mother:

Zenda, as Tom calls the being, is given books and maps so that it can adapt to the everyday world, but there are times when disaster threatens and Zenda's part in bringing nasty Stephen to justice for theft finally indicates that it is time he/she moves on before explanations are sought. The family background of gambling mother and unemployed father provides additional material in a lively mixture of...


Aside from the gender of the person with the laptop, this seems a lot like the plot of High Wizardry (1990), the third of the "Young Wizards" series by Diane Duane.

In this book, the younger sister of the first book's protagonist gets a brand new Apple III Compact (1980s version, battery/portable) computer -- which, it turns out is her version of the Wizard Manual that was the primary Maguffin in the first novel, for the older girl. Magical adventures ensue. I don't recall anything about mom gambling, but the girls did have parents who appeared briefly in the books, so I can't say it didn't happen.

  • Nope it is def not this, is the first book in the series and is def a male protaganist and no magic involved. – Richard C Jun 19 '19 at 13:41
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    I had the same thought after reading the title, but there was definitely no horse races or gambling in High Wizardry; in fact, as soon as she realized what the computer was, Dairine immediately went off-world, and spent the rest of the book on other planets. – DarthFennec Jun 20 '19 at 16:17

Tom's Amazing Machine by Gordon Snell. Think it was a desktop in the first novel, possibly destroyed in a fire, then entered a laptop in the sequel (Tom’s Amazing Machine Zaps Back.). Pretty sure the computer ends up filling in for the boys voice in the school play when he gets laryngitis in one of them.

The book is part of a trilogy, I don’t know where it fits in with the other books but there’s also the Tom’s Amazing Machine (which is probably the first one) and Tom’s Amazing Machine Zaps Back.

Tom is about ten or eleven and he has a laptop that has been brought to life via an alien spore that somehow wound up in the machine. The laptop’s name is Zenda, she’s a witty laptop who can imitate voices, she’s extremely knowledgeable and has a sense of humour. Just imagine how heavy that laptop would be, Tom takes the laptop everywhere with him.

Jon Bear & Carlyn Small Adventures, Tom’s Amazing Machine takes a trip By Gordon Snell- A book review

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    I've edited in some relevant information from the link in case it dies. In the future can you make sure you do that too, thanks! – TheLethalCarrot Jul 1 '19 at 11:23
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    It's worth noting that another user had already given this answer as well. – TheLethalCarrot Jul 1 '19 at 11:24
  • Thank you - only just joined and couldn't add the extra information as a comment on the previous reply - only way I could see was to post as a new reply. Apologies if I broke local etiquette. – Michael Jul 1 '19 at 17:26

I think that it's unlikely to be your book, since it looks like it was released in 2014, and the plot is not an exact match, but Bringing Up Mike by Mark Phillip Duncan is a partial match, with AIs, teenagers, and horse races.

Book cover for *Bringing Up Mike*

Secretive young prodigy Joe Lawrence moves to Tennessee to quietly attend high school where not too many questions will be asked. He’s accompanied by the disembodied voice of Mike, a self-aware computer program with the emotional maturity of a small boy. Joe and Mike move in with George and Martha, a good-natured couple recovering from the death of their teenage son, Marvin. Presenting Mike as a handicapped friend and computer genius telecommuting to aid him in his everyday life, clever Joe soon becomes a real friend to George and Martha, filling the void in their lives and helping rekindle their love of life. After Joe purchases a rundown former racehorse from ex-mobster Sly, now in the witness protection program, Joe and Mike help the neglected horse while aggravating Sly by getting the better of him in the bargain; they also become involved with Sly’s smart and focused stepdaughter, Sue. As they help heal George and Martha, evade Sly’s revenge and aid Sue in her struggle with the school principal over her newspaper, Joe and Mike undergo a curious metamorphosis as human and AI. Mike was supposed to be the one being tested and trained to grow up—but Joe finds himself growing up, too. The clean, clear text trusts readers to fill in some blanks, and Mike is a prominent but not physical presence throughout the story. The characters are a little old-fashioned and broad but eminently likable and sweet.

  • Am pretty sure it is set in the UK as well, (question updated) – Richard C Jun 19 '19 at 13:42

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