% fortune -ae paul murphy

On visiting the bookstore

Neither Murphy nor his executive officer were paying attention when the battle alerts flashed - then they fell all over themselves explaining what had happened to the civilian observer absorbing their attention. "We'll get imagery in a few seconds from the buoy we kicked back at the height of the battle," Murphy told her, "but right now all I know is that four hypercannons fired for 0.71 milliseconds and our shields went full for 1.8 microseconds - only about twenty thousand klicks, since we're slow coming in-system"

"Captain," Paul interrupted, suddenly dead serious, "buoy reports, it's nobody we've seen before - and we killed two"

Pre-emptive, automated, response-on-detection with human activity and reaction playing a role only in the post mortems on conflict - that's the way it will be, but that's not what you see in today's science fiction.

Ever read Michael Gear's 80s stuff? He has a non participant's view of sex that's a real turn-off, and his 19th century noble savage stalking the wicked among the stars isn't exactly au courant, but he's one of the few to offer a fully articulated view of future computing.

In his future America collapses, democracy fails, and the Soviets take over to build an inter stellar command economy - all ultimately to be run by an alien computer. Yes, One, alien computer.

Here's a bit of his take on the recovery from an interstellar and planetary government crisis created by crashing a space freighter into one empire's (unique) computing center:

Needed are ten thousand square meters of floor space to house a complex of seven hundred and fifty high capacity mainframe computers of the Itreata 7706 dimensions... (from Counter-Measures)

All to direct every non retail transaction across an empire of planets and stars.

The original Star Trek communicator became smaller and more useful by the time Voyager got home, but during that period overall computing in science fiction has gone to the matrix in one direction and pretty much nowhere in the other. What happened to the creativity of the thirties, forties, and fifties? where's today's out-pouring of faith in our future?

Computing in science fiction has been stagnant for decades: virtual realities like Second Life, about full sensory avatars, the social consequences of merging personalities and computing, the inward collapse of society - it's all standard fare from the sixties: where's the writer whose thoughts are current? who takes what we have now to predict the next generation communications technology or whose plots require invention of whole new methods of organising our lives and doing business?

Bah, swords and spaceships? I don't think so - and left the bookstore's Sci-Fi section empty handed.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.