back to article A Logic Named Joe: The 1946 sci-fi short that nailed modern tech

Buried deep in the pages of the March 1946 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine sits a short story by Murray Leinster that, 70 years on, has proven a remarkably sharp prediction of both 21st century consumer technology and culture. One of two pieces contributed by Leinster, a pen name used by author William Fitzgerald …

Page:

  1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

    Given the vast number of science/future fiction stories written, in a few decades which have seen no major discontunity in human/planetary develoment, it's surely completely unremarkable that a few, selected retrospectively, can be portrayed as congruent with the present day?

    A million monkeys, and all that ...

    While I enjoy rock documentaries and music family trees, the constant "isn't is amazing that none of all this would have happened were it not for that chance glance passing on the stairs, that overheard remark in the crowd ..." irks.

    No, it's not amazing. The vast majority of bands and musicians aren't successful enough to warrant recording; of those which are, those which were boringly managed and manipulated to the top wouldn't make interesting watching.

    IMO :)

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

      Misses the point. It's not about how amazing it is.

      There are good and bad predictions. This one is about how people might use <random technology>

      Rocket motors to power only ICBMs or space exploration?

      See also "Shock Wave Rider". Far better than Toffler's book that inspired it.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

        Excellent reminder that this story exists. I found it in a fat "best of" compendium back when we were having fun with warbling phones.(and were probably breaking a few laws meant to protect "muh telecom infrastructure")

        See also "Shock Wave Rider". Far better than Toffler's book that inspired it.

        Actually Stand on Zanzibar is even better. It's practically like watching CNN and similar shit.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

          Jeez... Some of the answers in that "warbling phones" link. I am officially old.

          Back to the story, it seems to show a setup where each house has a local server and storage more than computers connected to the Internet and uploading everything to four giant US companies.

          1. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

            "Back to the story, it seems to show a setup where each house has a local server and storage more than computers connected to the Internet and uploading everything to four giant US companies."

            From the story itself:

            "The tank is a big buildin' full of all the facts in creation an' all the recorded telecasts that ever was made—an' it's hooked in with all the other tanks all over the country—an' everything you wanna know or see or hear, you punch for it an' you get it"

            That sounds like a few interconnected data centres to me...

        2. Brian Miller

          Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

          I also read that story in a compendium. It was a very good story. A distributed search engine system, linking a global network of machines. Like a combination of Google and BOINC.

          The science fiction of yesterday is all around us today. No, sorry, no flying cars, but I've seen one or two flying chairs.

          1. Ashley_Pomeroy

            Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

            "I also read that story in a compendium" - it could well have been Machines That Think, which surprisingly has a Wikipedia page:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machines_That_Think

            I remember reading the story there when I was going through my Isaac Asimov period. Another story in the book - Triggerman - was essentially the 1983 Stanislav Petrov ICBM scare, but in 1958! There's a whole generation of people my age who grew up on sci-fi collections, I wonder if kids nowadays have the same thing.

        3. JLV

          Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

          SoZ is the one with the muckers right? Public mass killers a la Columbine et all. Second it and Shockwave.

          I also nominate Neuromancer and Burning Chrome for intrusion tech and cyberspace.

          Forever Peace for remote controlled military assasination cyborgs. Aka drones these days.

          Too early to really tell but I also think Suarez's Daemon is likely to hit some bullseyes.

          But, honestly, given the sheer volume of SF lit and its avowed goal of prediction, they're not batting so hot in general. Space warfare esp is a subject with a perennial lack of plausibility.

          1. Mark 110

            Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

            Try 'The Forever War' for an exceptional analysis of the futility of inter stellar warfare because of the distortions of trying to fight a war at relativistic distances. It's an excellent commentary on the futility of all war in the end.

            1. JLV

              Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

              >Try 'The Forever War'

              Ah, very good point.

              I didn't think about it because Forever War was more about the strategic relativity effects than about space tactics (which is what I was thinking of).

              I'll also add Vernor Vinge. "True Names", 1981, has an eerily prescient and elegant take on the internet.

          2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

            I also nominate Neuromancer and Burning Chrome for intrusion tech and cyberspace.

            In what ways are the depictions of "intrusion tech" and "cyberspace"1 in Gibson's work at all accurate predictions of anything? Or, for that matter, the depiction of pretty much anything else?

            Gibson writes a decent plot, and some of his tropes were fairly novel at the time. But I find him overrated as a prose stylist, and his books are technological and sociological fantasies.

            1Ugh. A thousand times, ugh. The co-option of the once useful prefix "cyber" into a score of meaningless terms is an affront to the language.

            1. JLV

              Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

              I agree that Gibson seems quite naive in his actual grasp of technology. So you ain't wrong in calling me out on it.

              He's by no means a Vernor Vinge, for example. Doesn't mean he doesn't have some clever takes on the likely impact of tech, especially in his early writings:

              Using VR as a programming/visualization aid. As devs or sysadmins, we are often drowning in complexity and struggle to grasp all the aspects of what we are looking after. Think of how many consoles, logs and screens you are looking at. I know that is one thing I'd like to be able to do with a suitably mature VR headset.

              In Burning Chrome, you have, IIRC, an intrusion on the back of somebody masquerading as an IRS automated audit. The way things are going, you sure we ain't gonna be getting mandated government-access automated audits? For security, kiddy-porn, tax audits? And those won't be spoofable, of course!

              The other thing you are missing is not so much the level of detailed prediction that Gibson got right as the extent to which his writing have influenced contemporary society and our thinking about tech.

              And that gets us right back to

              >The co-option of the once useful prefix "cyber" into a score of meaningless terms is an affront to the language.

              among others.

              He's had a big influence*, like him or not.

              * Note to self: use "influencer", more hip.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

            "But, honestly, given the sheer volume of SF lit and its avowed goal of prediction, they're not batting so hot in general."

            As a lifelong Sci-Fi reader I cannot remember anyone stating that the 'goal' was prediction.

            The primary goal was to entertain and make some money for the author :)

            If a little commentary on the possible via extrapolation of the 'now' (to them) is termed prediction it is accidental.

            The majority of the authors I read seemed to be making points about the current situations in the world at the time and got away with the commentary because it was a fictional future etc.

            Read the stories with a view to the world at the time for the author(s) and the 'Worries of the time'.

            Regardless of the criticisms, from our end of the timeline, still much more entertaining than the neverending Reality TV and variations on Talent Contests we have to endure. :) :)

            1. Eli le Fey
              Holmes

              Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

              *ahem* If you want the prediction of what you describe, "the neverending Reality TV and variations on Talent Contests we have to endure" look no further than "The Marching Morons" by C.M. Kornbluth. I think he called it.

              http://mysite.du.edu/~treddell/3780/Kornbluth_The-Marching-Morons.pdf

              As for "A Logic Named Joe" I recall reading that decades ago, when I was about 11 or 12. Back then, we didn't have all that fancy schmancy Harry Potter, no, we read hardcore science fiction. And we liked it.

              We didn't need CGI movies and "theme parks" and merchanising, no, we had BRAINS and IMAGINATIONS. We had to THINK.

              Kids today. Feh,

          4. Bakana

            Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

            Personally, I've never heard a serious Science Fiction author claim that he/she was trying in any way to "Predict the future".

            In fact, when journalists try to pin most SF authors down to predicting the future for some fluff piece, most will do their best to bow out. Because most have seen the sad results of that particular hubris trap.

            The Real Goal of most successful SF authors is to write a story that Lots of people will want to Read. After all, most of them want to be "Successful" and if no one Reads your stories, you don't get to Be Successful.

            They share that desire with almost all authors: "Please, Read My Stuff!"

        4. Alan Johnson

          Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

          John Brunner published at leat four outstanding novels. His career seemd to fade away for no obvious reason.

      2. Flat Phillip
        Thumb Up

        Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

        Brunner had a lot of predictions in that book (others too). Have an upvote.

    2. TheProf Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

      Ignore those down votes. You're absolutely correct.

    3. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

      There are several writers who grasped human nature will trump technology such as H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke. With a little bit of shrewd guessing about technology and a realistic appraisal of human nature they could write stories that appear spot on because they factor in realistic human foibles.

      Often the best sci-fi is not about science or technology but use them as a back drop to tell a story about human stupidity and foibles often with some very acerbic social commentary hidden in plain site.

      1. The Dim View

        Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

        You are leaving out the Dean of the group - Admiral Bob. There is even a set of his works collected under the anthology umbrella as "Future History".

        1. Bakana

          Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

          If, by "Admiral Bob" you mean Robert Heinlein, that's quite a promotion.

          Heinlein was discharged from the Navy as a Lieutenant because he contracted pulmonary Tuberculosis. Medical Discharge.

          It was Very Necessary considering that an effective antibiotic for the disease was not identified until 10 Years Later.

          Allowing an active case of Tuberculosis aboard a US Navy Vessel is Still forbidden although these days it just get you sent to the nearest Hospital with an isolation ward for the disease until the contagious period is over.

          FWIW, I was exposed to tuberculosis when a shipmate came down with it.

          Everyone who lived in that berthing compartment had to take annual tests for the next 10 Years, just in case, before the Navy finally decided that we probably Wouldn't come down with it.

          I was lucky. I only had to take the annual Tests. Several guys went home when their enlistments were up carrying large bottles of Pills they had to take until they showed a "Clean" test.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Hidden message in the capitalisation?

            NLTDVNYLTNVSHYNWTPC

            I can't make sense of it, hope it isn't from the future.

        2. IvyKing
          Mushroom

          Admiral Bob

          His story, "Blowups Happen", has one of the best descriptions of a nuclear power plant despite the 1941 version being written almost two ears before Fermi brought the Chicago Pile to critical. There were a few errors due to lack of knowledge of the fission process, in particular delayed neutrons, but he had a plausible work-around with an accelerator driven neutron source. One of the fairly close calls was stating that the energy of 2.5 tons of U235 fissioning would be equivalent to 100MT, where the actual yield would be half that.

          The story also postulated that peoples lives would be saved by "artificial radioactives" - I probably wouldn't be alive today if it wasn't for a Tc-99m screening.

        3. Marshalltown

          Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction? Yes remarkably

          Heinlein, while a great writer, never came so close to an accurate description of a significant social and technological development as this story does. And Leinster wrote this before 1950. Heck, he died in 1975. Read it closely and you will sea the shadows of the cloud, Office 365, Netflix, the use of a CRT (missed out on calling for light-weight screens), Skype, net stalking and the like, and even keyboards.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Holmes

        Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

        a_yank_lurker, may I also add they not only understood peoples emotions and driving forces but also some of the limits of technology.

        Star Wars might be "Science Fiction" but the actions in it have no bearing on reality or plausible. Like wise Flash Gordon dealt little with the struggle most people face in a world where (for example) job replacement by technology exists.

        However the other Sci-Fi writers noted what may happen and how people may respond, instead of thinking "would it not be cool to dance and prance around the stars..." ;)

      3. Bakana

        Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

        The Best Sci-Fi is Always about the people.

        I can't think of a single instance of a story being regarded as "Great" or "Memorable" that didn't, in some way, provide commentary about the People involved and how their lives were changed for better or for worse.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

      "Given the vast number of science/future fiction stories written, in a few decades which have seen no major discontunity in human/planetary develoment, it's surely completely unremarkable that a few, selected retrospectively, can be portrayed as congruent with the present day?"

      I recently read a collection of Philip K Dick short stories .... in one set in the future scientists run into a problem they can't solve but someone remembers reading a story written by a "precog" in the past who dealt with the same issue in a story but didn;t give full details of the solution so they use a time machine to travel back to inflitrate a big meeting of "precogs" (which is clearly a SciFi convention as many SciFi authors - including PKD himself, are name-checked) to kidnap the author to bring into the future to explain how they fix their problem.

      1. Lake_Cochituate
        Boffin

        Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

        PKD once wrote a story called Water Spider where Poul Anderson is a character (and his wife & daughter too). Being a huge Anderson fan, I laughed when I read it.

    5. Stuart21551

      Re: *Remarkably* sharp prediction?

      This is no 'million monkeys'.

      Very prescient.

  3. Paul Kinsler

    Leinster

    ... there's a fair number of other stories written by Leinster on gutenberg, if anyone (else :) is interested in reading some creaky old sf.

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Leinster

      Link to Gutenberg for Murray Leinster (unlike Archive.org they are usually proof read).

      A good reason to get an eInk Kindle or Kobo (you only need to connect once to register, then use USB only. Calibre + plug ins is friend to allow DRM ePub on Kindle, or DRM mobi/AZW on Kobo)

    2. Midnight

      Re: Leinster

      "A Logic Named Joe" can also be picked up directly from the Baen Free Library.

      http://www.baen.com/chapters/W200506/0743499107___2.htm

      1. John 104

        Re: Leinster

        Baen Free library = totally awesome.

  4. Herbert Meyer

    Look at Henry Kuttner

    While you are going through the back issues, find the old Henry Kuttner ( you know, CL Moore's husband ) for a story about the Twonky, Or maybe the old film of it, starring Hans Conreid. The film was about a TV, but the story was not quite specific about the nature of the Twonky machine.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The dystopian theme was in vogue long before the Cold War.

    Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" was published in 1931.

    Predictions of the internet's capabilities were woven into E M Forster's "The Machine Stops". Published in 1909 before the pall of the Great War was even a speck on the horizon.

    The web as a store of information is basically the old Public Library system with wider scope. In the UK if a book was published then a copy was held by the British Library. People created indexing systems so that a library could arrange their books by subject. Information that is stored without an index is difficult to access. Even if your local library doesn't stock a book then they will obtain it from another area if possible.

    In the 1960s a school pal was a candidate for Oxbridge. The English teacher recommended the novel "Peyton Place" as part of the wider preparation for the university interviews. The local public library was divided into children (under-14) and adults - with different rooms and membership ticket systems. However they refused to let my 18 year old pal borrow that novel until he returned with an authorising letter from the teacher.

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      HG Wells invented the nuclear suitcase bomb in his 1914 novel The World Set Free, albeit it was more of an ever lasting firework.

      More's 'Utopia' itself could be reimagined as a dystopia from the POV of one it's citizens.

      I am hugely impressed with "A Logic Named Joe" and hope El Reg dig up more. Can I suggest "I have no mouth, but I must scream", which I thought of every day in the hell of tech support.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        The British Library

        It's still a legal requirement to lodge a copy of any published book with the British Library (and from memory, four others, but only if they request it).

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      >The web as a store of information is basically the old Public Library system with wider scope.

      Yep! In the Victorian book Three Men in a Boat, the narrator becomes a hypochondriac by reading medical textbooks in the British library. I have since seen a parallel with people self-diagnosing on the internet.

      There were other Victorian phenomena that could be seen as precursors to those in A Logic Named Joe. For example, subscribers could listen to live concerts, delivered over telephone. 'On demand entertainment' wasn't that unheard of.

      1. glen waverley

        3 men in a boat

        Have an upvote for that

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: 3 men in a boat

          JKJ's sequel, of sorts, Three Men on the Bummel is also an entertaining read, if not quite as funny as Three Men in a Boat. It's most notable, though, for its final chapter, in which Jerome muses on the national character of the German citizen (in a very turn-of-the-century manner). With post-World-War hindsight it's quite a fascinating bit of insight into the mindset of people like Jerome at that moment, on the cusp of the Victorian / Edwardian transition.

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: 3 men in a boat

            I read Three Men on the Brummel after reading Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughter House Five. The latter, being set during the fire-bombing of Dresden in WWII read as a lament for the city. Three Men on the Brummel clicked with me for being an account of the city as it once stood.

            That, and the narrator's observation that all by-laws are enforced by exact fines, thus any normal young Englishman could visit Germany and steal a policeman's helmet and walk on a lawn, and able to budget for his holiday down to the pfennig.

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        ...there was no tin-opener to be found. . .I took the tin off myself and hammered at it till I was sick at heart, whereupon Harris took it in hand. We beat it flat; we beat it back square; we battered it into every shape known to geometry - but we could not make a hole in it. Then George went at it, and knocked it into a shape, so strange, so weird, so unearthly in its wild hideousness, that he got frightened.

        1. .@.
          Thumb Up

          If only they had met the Crazy Russian Hacker ...

          ...there was no tin-opener to be found. . .I took the tin off myself and hammered at it till I was sick at heart, whereupon Harris took it in hand. We beat it flat; we beat it back square; we battered it into every shape known to geometry - but we could not make a hole in it. Then George went at it, and knocked it into a shape, so strange, so weird, so unearthly in its wild hideousness, that he got frightened.

          Just in case you ever need to open a can with no can-opener ... :)

          How to Open a Can without Can Opener - Zombie Survival Tips #20

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ah, the joy ..

    .. of expiring copyrights ..

    :)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't know, linking human psychology to the internet and bringing out the worst in people is a bit far fetched. I mean if someone is determined to commit morally wrong actions then you could argue that libraries and education are also enablers. It is an interesting concept and article though.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      '...I mean if someone is determined to commit morally wrong actions then you could argue that libraries and education are also enablers.'

      To a point, libraries are/were enablers...

      librarians, on the other hand, those guardians of the sacred knowledge...

      Librarian: 'Exactly why do you want to borrow our copy of Mr Abdul Alhazred's al-Azif?'

      Me: 'Err, shits and giggles?'

      Back in the late 70's/early 80's our local library removed any book with Illustrations/photos of magic mushrooms in them..no real reason given, but probably a kneejerk reaction to the moral outrage (whose moral outrage you ask?, who knows?)

      So, almost overnight all the books on Fungi disappeared from the shelves (that is, apart from the ones by The Old Gentleman from Providence..)

      Meanwhile in the reference section, all sorts of fun formulae and information was to be had (and photocopied).

      Funny bunch, librarians.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The correct answer is that "I want to open a Portal"

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          'The correct answer is that "I want to open a Portal"'

          Yes, you know that, I know that, the librarians know that, but they've got to ask, and you've got to play the game of pretending you don't know what you're doing....

          A tradition, or an old charter or something...

          1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

            ...and it helps if you give the librarian a banana...

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020