The End of the Alan Turing Year–And the Beginning of the Bicentennial

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Days to the Bicentennial: 36,333

What an awesome year for Turing fans–which in the computer age is pretty much everyone, whether they know it or not.

Still, at long last the Alan Turing Year is drawing to a close. As of midnight tonight, it will officially all be over. But the Turing-verse has never been constrained by official notions.

I’ve written a number of times about the people I call Turing Elves–people who create works or undertake endeavors that honour, explore, memorialize, or otherwise focus upon Alan Turing and his work without any official sanction, without asking anyone’s permission.

I think Turing Elvery is an especially appropriate way to recall Turing. After all, this was a scientist who–despite having worked at the highest levels of officialdom during the war–began his enquiries on his own, and continued them after the world of officials had condemned and rejected him. And quite apart from his work as a scientist, this was a man who ignored social disapproval with regard to sexual preference, persisting in doing so even after he was convicted criminally for having had gay sex. Doing things for their own sake, and doing them whether or not others approved, was a key theme in his life. It might be too  recursive to call Turing the first Turing Elf, but he certainly set the ball rolling.

And long before the Alan Turing Year was a sparkle in anyone’s eye, Andrew Hodges  began work on his biography of Turing, Alan Turing: The Enigma. It has recently been issued in an excellent new centennial edition and is now not only a  classic work within the Turing-verse but also in the world of scientific biography generally. Throughout the Alan Turing Year, Hodges has been a key member of the Turing Centenary Advisory Committee–in other words, an official of sorts–but back then he was a Turing Elf. Maybe he was the first.

Not long after Hodges finished his biography, science fiction author Greg Bear wrote “Tangents,” a short story featuring a protagonist clearly based on Turing that was  first published in Omni magazine in January 1986. It went on to win the Hugo and Nebula awards and to be anthologized several times and it set the precedent for a whole lineage of fictional incarnations of Alan Turing. Bear, too, was a Turing Elf and remains enthusiastic about Turing Elvery in general.

The trend has continued, not only in written works, but in sculpture, street art and graffiti, painting, music, drama (on stage, film, and television), and in many other forms. (I’m still waiting for the Turing opera–apparently there’s one on the way.)

And the Turing Elvery will continue, I suspect even more energetically than before the centenary took place.

As part of it, this page will continue. In theory it’s now counting down the days to the bicentennial–just as it counted down the days until the centenary began. Who knows if web pages, as such, will even exist in 2112, but the countdown signals the intention to keep this page going and the spirit of the Turing celebrations alive even after 2012 has ended.

And I will be continuing with other forms of Elvery. I am at work on Conjuring Turing: The Fictional Afterlife of Alan Turing, a book for the general reader about the sub-genre of fiction that started with Greg Bear’s story “Tangents” and now includes a wide variety of authors working in several different literary traditions.

The book will include, where possible, interviews with the authors of the works under discussion. So far I’ve found the authors I’ve contacted to be very enthusiastic, even Greg Bear, whose story first appeared almost 30 years ago.

Here’s an update:

  • I’ve already interviewed Rudy Rucker about his novel, published earlier this year, Turing & Burroughs: A Beatnik SF Novel. Turing & Burroughs is a potent surrealistic roller coaster ride that not only celebrates Turing, but also features Rucker’s note-perfect literary impersonation of Beat author William Burroughs. You can read the interview here.
  • I’m in the process of interviewing Christos Papadimitriou, the author of Turing (A Novel About Computation).
  • Recently Greg Bear himself has agreed to be part of the project, and that interview is underway. You can find the story “Tangents” in his short story collection of the same name.
  • Paul Morris, the author of the children’s book Time Traveller Danny and the Codebreaker (part of the Time Traveller Kids series) has also signed on. He very kindly sent me a copy of his book, which I thoroughly enjoyed and which I recommend for any kid who enjoys a great time travel yarn (as well as for any adult who likes a good story, especially anyone with a passing interest in our boy Alan).

So, for anyone who’s sad to see the Alan Turing Year go, take heart! The official year was great, but it was the icing on the cake–the official expression of an enterprise that started a long time ago and won’t be stopping any time soon.

And stay tuned to this page–it’s not going anywhere.

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