Dr. Dobb's is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Channels ▼

Jocelyn Paine

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

New Hope for the Dead

April 05, 2009

Hello, Mr Hormel, this is your hosting system at Nirvana Infomatics. We apologise for interrupting your regular afterlife, but unfortunately the message is urgent. Otherwise we would not have intruded on your VR sex athletics competition.

The rest of David Langford's three-page story New Hope for the Dead is here.

I remember Langford because of my interest in spreadsheet safety: in his News Log for 6 April 2005, he tells how his publishers sent him only half the royalties he was due because a call to SUM in their royalties spreadsheet omitted to total some of its cells. But I also remember several happy hours spent with his book The Leaky Establishment, which Terry Pratchett introduces by saying

I hate Dave Langford for writing this book. This was the book I meant to write. God wanted me to write this book.

Pratchett and Langford both worked at British nuclear establishments. Pratchett knew about words: he was a Press Officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board in an area which covered three nuclear power stations. Langford knew about uranium: he was a weapons physicist at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Aldermaston. And The Leaky Establishment is a mistaken-identities farce set in such an establishment, the identities being those of nuclear warhead parts. In its depiction of the bureaucracy-bound Civil Service and the antique security officials who treat one's safety infractions with "all the disdain of a chef discovering fruit bats in the ananas au kirsch", the book is spot on.

The Leaky Establishment is spot on too with the "frightful and grey-souled computer bore" who has implemented the slowest game of Space Invaders ever. On a teletype. Because, as Langford points out: when you've bought a super-duper Crayfish computer to handle all your data-processing, you can't expect HM Government to stump up for poncy new video terminals too. Take what they used in 1955 and be glad of it.

If I told you more, I'd spoil the book, so I shan't. But I'll note that there's lots of amusing on-line reading on Langford's site, such as his SFX column. In Flat Earth Societies, this surveys A. Square's Flatland, Ian Stewart's Flatterland, and other novels of N≠3 dimensions.

Hormel, by the way, is the company that makes Spam canned meat. I have just tried to see whether Spam features in Stuffed With Large Insects, the June 1996 SFX column about "strange meals in SF", but that one isn't on-line. I'll have to buy Langford's book Pieces of Langford or The SEX Column. Sadly, since these aren't fantasy trilogy blockbusters, I can't just pick them off the shelf in my local Borders, I'll have to order them. But the wait will be worth it.

Related Reading

More Insights

Currently we allow the following HTML tags in comments:

Single tags

These tags can be used alone and don't need an ending tag.

<br> Defines a single line break

<hr> Defines a horizontal line

Matching tags

These require an ending tag - e.g. <i>italic text</i>

<a> Defines an anchor

<b> Defines bold text

<big> Defines big text

<blockquote> Defines a long quotation

<caption> Defines a table caption

<cite> Defines a citation

<code> Defines computer code text

<em> Defines emphasized text

<fieldset> Defines a border around elements in a form

<h1> This is heading 1

<h2> This is heading 2

<h3> This is heading 3

<h4> This is heading 4

<h5> This is heading 5

<h6> This is heading 6

<i> Defines italic text

<p> Defines a paragraph

<pre> Defines preformatted text

<q> Defines a short quotation

<samp> Defines sample computer code text

<small> Defines small text

<span> Defines a section in a document

<s> Defines strikethrough text

<strike> Defines strikethrough text

<strong> Defines strong text

<sub> Defines subscripted text

<sup> Defines superscripted text

<u> Defines underlined text

Dr. Dobb's encourages readers to engage in spirited, healthy debate, including taking us to task. However, Dr. Dobb's moderates all comments posted to our site, and reserves the right to modify or remove any content that it determines to be derogatory, offensive, inflammatory, vulgar, irrelevant/off-topic, racist or obvious marketing or spam. Dr. Dobb's further reserves the right to disable the profile of any commenter participating in said activities.

Disqus Tips To upload an avatar photo, first complete your Disqus profile. | View the list of supported HTML tags you can use to style comments. | Please read our commenting policy.