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Jocelyn Paine

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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.

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