Science Fiction as Prophecy (2017/01/20)

People bring this topic up all the time. Arthur Clarke invented the satellite in an article in 1945 that nobody took seriously. Murray Leinster wrote 'A Logic Named Joe' in 1946, and while it got some details wrong it basically predicted both the Internet and the breathless pearl-clutching about artificial intelligence run amok.

But few science fiction stories get the names right. Martin Gardner did, in 1951, when he wrote an allegory about the out-of-memory handler in the Linux kernel.

Oom

Cautiously peered Oom over the rim of the Milky Way and focused his upper eye on an atomic cloud. As it mushroomed slowly from the surface of the earth, tears dripped from the upper eye of Oom.

But a little lower than the Legnas had Oom created man. Male and female, in an image somewhat like his own, created he them. Yet ever and again had they turned the power of reason upon themselves, and the history of their race had been one of endless discord.

And Oom knew that when the atomic clouds had cleared, and bacterial plagues had spent their fury, the race of man would yet live on. After war’s exhaustion would come rest and returning strength, new cities and new dreams, new loves and hates, and again the crafty planning of new wars. So might things continue until the end of space-time.

Oom wearied of man’s imperfection. Sighing, lightly he touched the earth with the tip of his left big toe.

And on the earth came a mighty quaking. Lightning and thunder raged, winds blew, mountains rent asunder. Waters churned above the continents. When silence came at last, and the sea slipped back into the hollows, no living thing remained.

Throughout the cosmos other planets whirled quietly about other suns, and on each had Oom caused divers manners of souls to grow. And on each had been ceaseless bitterness and strife. One by one, gently were they touched by a toe of Oom, until the glowing suns harbored only the weaving bodies of dead worlds.

Like intricate jewelled clockwork the universe ran on. And of this clockwork Oom greatly wearied. Softly he breathed on the glittering spheres and the lights of the suns went out and a vast Darkness brooded over the deep.

In the courts of Oom many laughed at the coming of the Darkness; but others did not laugh, regretting the passing of the suns. Over the justice of Oom’s indignation a great quarreling arose among the Legnas, and the sound of their quarreling reached the lower ear of Oom.

Then turned Oom and fiercely looked upon the Legnas. And when they beheld his countenance they drew back in terror, their wings trailing. Gently did Oom blow his breath upon them. . . .

And as Oom walked the empty corridors, brooding darkly on the failures of his handiwork, a great loneliness came upon him. Within him a portion of himself spoke, saying:

“Thou hast done a foolish thing. Eternity is long and Thou shalt weary of thyself.”

And it angered Oom that his soul be thus divided; that in him should be this restlessness and imperfection. Even of himself Oom wearied. Raising high his middle arm into the Darkness, he made the sign of Oom.

Over infinite distances did the arm traverse. Eternity came and fled ere the sign had been completed.

Then at last to the cosmos came perfect peace, and a wandering wind of nothingness blew silently over the spot where Oom had been.

Martin Gardner, 1951