[SIGCIS-Members] Literature on the place of science fiction (and its fandom) in the history of technology

Allan Olley allan.olley at utoronto.ca
Sun Aug 19 19:41:38 PDT 2018

 	This is a bit of a tangent, but as I have been reading with 
interest this discussion of various resources on history of technology, 
history of computing and science fiction, I happened to be going over an 
old Eastern Joint Computer Conference Keynote from 1954 and the subject 
comes up in what I find a interesting way, thought it might be of 
 	It also touches on the way minaturization was not realized as a 
trend by a science fiction author, and the way it is brought up tells us 
something about the way technical specialist respond to popualar 
depictions of their domain and perhaps some other things. I don't have 
much experience or knowledge of 1950s science fiction and computers 
but I think the example proferred might be novel, because of how slow 
science fiction was to even respond to computers as a thing, not sure 
many other stories of the day mentioned computers in any way at all and 
in some ways the story seems to be a reflection of elements actually at 
work in the computers of 1950...

So from C. W. Adams, "Small Computers in a Large World" (Proceedings of 
the Eastern Joint Computer Conference, 1954, Philadelphia, Pa. December 
8-10, pages 1-3 of the volume) he 
is discussing the theme of the conference, the design and application of 
small digital computers, and starts with a large digital computers as a 
contrast class, listing a whole bunch of machines from the Harvard Mark I 
on and continues:

 	But largest by far are the Goliaths of science fiction. Some of 
you have no doubt, probably to your sorrow, struggled through a 
pocket-sized novel called "Year of Consent" full of overdone parable  and 
underdone science. In it, trie author pictures for us an intellectual 
dinosaur, all bulk and no brains. Here is his description of a large 
computer of 1990.

"The giant electronic brain filled up the first ten floors of our 
building. There were additional memory banks in several sub-cellars and in 
another nearby building.... It contained 500,000 electronic tubes and 
about 860,000 relays. Not counting the extra memory banks, it had 400 
registers totalling 6,400 decimal digts of very rapid memory in electronic 
tubes and about 6,000 registers totalling 120,000 decimal digits of less 
rapid memory in relays... Officially the giant brain was the SOCIAC, but 
simply because we were a little afraid of its ability we were seldom that 
formal. To everyone around the office it was known as Herbie."

 	Perhaps the antithesis of 1990's Herbie is the 1950's Curta, one 
of the very smallest hand-operated calculators. It adds and subtracts, can 
be made to multiply or divide 6 to 11 decimal digits at a time, costs only 
$150, uses practically no power, will fit in every elevator and go through 
every door. But, if I may coin a distinction, it is merely a calculator, 
an arithmetic element. It has no storage to speak of, no fully automatic 
sequence control.

[Novel referred to is Year of Consent by Kendell Foster Crossen, 
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1633394.Year_of_Consent ]
Yours Truly,
Allan Olley, PhD


On Fri, 17 Aug 2018, David C. Brock wrote:

> Dear All,
> I would be very grateful to learn of your favorite pieces that you’ve read on this topic: the place, role, and function of science fiction and science fiction fandom in the history of technology, and especially the history of computing. I’m wholly ignorant about it, bibliographically.
> Thanks as ever,
> David
> +++++++++++++++
> David C. Brock
> dcb at dcbrock.net
> 40 Russell Street, Greenfield, MA 01301 
> Mobile: 413-522-3578 
> Skype: dcbrock 
> Twitter: @dcbrock
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