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I have some fragmentary memories of a sci-fi library my father had, and I would really like to find some of those books. Having just bits and scraps of memories doesn't help with search, but a few of them should be enough to pinpoint the book in question.

So - those were Russian translations published in the 90s.

Let's try this one: a novel, in which there was a supercomputer which communicated via/with a special caste of people that learned to talk in its insanely complex verbal language.

It also had Matrix-like VR it could put people to, in sensory isolation pods. The protagonist, as he was training to speak this language, was put into that VR. And the computer made the VR respond to how well the person could intone the language, with (unattainable) perfection being rewarded with a carrot-on-a-stick of a cold drink on a paradise-like beach.

If I'm not mixing things up, the protagonist was undergoing this training as an alternative to being recycled for organs, as he was (unjustly, I think) accused of some crime punishable by this "rational" form of death sentence. There was a sanatorium where such sentenced people were living, and were slowly, piece-by-piece used as transplant material as need arose. I remember one of the characters having a black-skinned hand from such a convict on an otherwise white body. If I am mixing things up, this is a separate novel I'm also interested in.

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I believe you're looking for the Starchild Trilogy by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson. In the first volume, The Reefs of Space, the protagonist was a dissident (former scientist working on an intertialess drive) who was part of a group being used for transplant organs. I don't remember the different-colored hands, but he eventually escapes the explosive wind-up collars they're fitted with by:

having someone cut off his head, remove the collar, then sew his head back on. This was a plan originally performed by a legendary "D.W.H." who left a decoy body stitched up from transplant organs in his place. Due to a scar across his neck, the protagonist assumes that he is D.W.H., but it's implied that he may actually be the decoy body.

In the second book, Starchild, as you newly remembered, the machine's language consisted of one word per sentence (oddly enough, the output was a Zeerust blend of ticker tape and blinking lights) and the protagonist was indeed rewarded in exactly that manner.

  • I believe that is the answer. The detail you mentioned fits my memories. Thank you! – Xan May 7 '14 at 12:52
  • To slightly correct your answer: the Mechanese language is only introduced in the second book, Starchild. In the first book, the protagonist was put into the Heaven camp for organ harvesting but escaped, and in the second book a different protagonist is being forced to learn to communicate with the Machine. – Xan May 9 '14 at 10:02
  • Ah. It's been over a decade since I read the books and there isn't a lot of information online. I'll correct it. – FuzzyBoots May 9 '14 at 10:54

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