MARVELS by R.E. Harrington


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Harrington once seemed to have a future writing superior thrillers like Quintain (1977) and Death of a Patriot (1979), but of late he's made an unfortunate switch to mundane Captain-of-Industry sagas (Proud Man, 1983). His current offering is a soporific paean to a simple farm-boy who raises himself up by his bootstraps, reaches for a star, and becomes a pioneer in the data-processing biz. It's 1908 as gawky young J.D. Marvel departs his southern Illinois farm to work for Parson's Christian Products Co., selling organs door-to-door. He's a natural salesman, and is soon pulling down ten thousand a year; but one day, at a convention in Chicago, he sees a pretty girl demonstrating an enormous tabulating machine (distant predecessor of the computer) and the rest is history. Marvel dives into the data-processing business and lands with a big splash, wooing the crotchety inventor of the marvelous tabulators, and eventually besting tough old Homer Cranston (the man who gives him his start) at his own game. By the 1930's, Marvel Scientific Machines is right up there with IBM; and by the time the transistor is developed in the late 40's and the computer race heats up, Marvel is considered one of the leaders in the field. Meanwhile, J.D. has gone through two wives (one he divorces because she's having a affair with a business rival, another dies in a train wreck) as well as an entire secretariat pool; he has a loyal son (Jesse) and a grasping, ambitious granddaughter (Jessica); and author Harrington is boring everyone with his March of Time prose: ""In 1948 two events occurred that were to profoundly affect the data processing industry and the broader world within which it existed. . ."" When Marvel finally dies of a stroke, the relief is profound. In all, a turgid, self-serious affair that--unless Babbittry is truly back in style--will interest very few.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Stein & Day