Friday, August 13, 2010

Quote of the Week: Laundry Day

"Pay attention now: this briefing will self-destruct in fifteen minutes.

My name is Bob, Bob Howard. At least, that's the name I use in these memoirs. (True names have power: even if it's only the power to attract the supernatural equivalent of a Make Money Fast spammer, I'd rather not put myself in their sights, thank you very much.) And I work for the Laundry.

The Laundry is the British Government's secret agency for dealing with "magic." The use of the scare-quotes is deliberate; as Arthur C. Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," so "magic" is what we deal with. Note that this does not involve potions, pentacles, prayers, eldrich chanting, dressing up in robes and point hats, or most (but not all) of the stuff associated with the term in the public mind., No, our magic is computational. The realm of pure mathematics is very real indeed, and the ... things ... that cast shadows on the walls of Plato's cave can sometimes be made to listen and pay attention if you point a loaded theorem at them. This is, however, a very dangerous process, because most of the shadow-casters are unclear on the distinction between pay attention and free buffet lunch here. My job -- applied computational demonologist -- comes with a very generous pension scheme, because most of us don't survive to claim it.

Magic being a branch of pure mathematics, and computers being machines that can be used to perform lots of mathematical tasks very fast, it follows that most real practicing magicians start out as computer science graduates. The Laundry, the government agency for handling this stuff, started off as a by-blow of the Second World War code-breakers at Bletchley Park, the people who built the first working programmable computers. And the domestic side of our work -- preventing accidental incursions by incomprehensible horrors from beyond spacetime -- has been growing rapidly in recent decades. You may have noticed there are more computers around these days, and more computer programmers. Guess what? That means more work for the Laundry!"
- Charles Stross, The Fuller Memorandum, pp.10-11

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