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Re: The science fiction writer who most personifies Perl is:

by Xiong (Hermit)
on Jul 01, 2010 at 14:23 UTC ( #847528=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to The science fiction writer who most personifies Perl is:

The Good Doctor, of course. I can think of three reasons immediately.


It would be most un-Asenion to meet your challenge openly without first giving the Gentle Reader an opportunity to exercise his mind. Perhaps a hint is in order.

One association I make between Dr. Asimov and Perl is blatant and obvious; one is personal and subjective; one is sublime and esoteric.

I shall reveal my associations after giving fellow Perlers and Trufans a little time to think.


Now that another poll has opened, here is my reply to ambrus' demands. This poll is a little like "Which politician reminds you of a banana"; a little subjective. Let's roll up our sleeves and look for objective grounds.

The Three Laws of Robotics

The Laws have had a great effect on engineers of my generation, those of us who read SF and went into fields in which we hoped to build mechanical men. I commonly tacked up the Laws over my desk or workbench, next to the other Three Laws (of Thermodynamics). One list was a reminder of a higher purpose in my work; the other was a reminder of the inflexible nature of certain limits.

Prior to Asimov, robots were viewed as monsters; as late as the 1960's, computers were seen by the public as threatening; offensively ruthless, rigid, and stupid. Jokes about utility customers being spindled, folded, and mutilated had the air of graveyard whistling. I maintain that the entire Information Age, with small, decentralized, personalized and 'friendly' computing, has, to a large part, been a grandchild of Asimov's vision, with ourselves, the metathinking engineers, its parents.

Specifically Perlish implementations of the Laws include such things as taint mode, Do What I Mean, and automatic garbage collection. The direct connections may be tenuous but are obvious. The common link is the philosophy of machine serving man; not man fearing machine, machine out of control, or useless machine with burning wiring and smoking oil.

Character of the Man and his Works

Asimov was well known for his hacker-like work habits: long hours at the anachronistic typewriter. He exemplified laziness, impatience, and hubris: He strove to produce perfect works, so he would not need to fix them later; he imagined worlds of the future instead of waiting for someone to build them; he was famously immodest.

The Good Doctor was a legitimate Ph.D.; he was no mere spinner of tales but a professor at the chalkboard. Besides his SF, he wrote authoritative science fact and quite a few mysteries. He had the sort of broadness of interest I see in CB or other gatherings of computer professionals, where no topic is off-topic. I believe he would have held his own in any heated YAPC gathering.

Asimov's writing style is technical. He's been described as a humanist -- described himself that way -- but his actual work is a bit dry. Bradbury is humanist; he wrote a whole story around the smell of a new pair of kid's sneakers. Heinlein is political; each book seems to enlarge his Utopia. Niven gets the science right but is essentially a comedian. (No offense; I love his stuff.) Clarke and Herbert are mystics. Asimov, despite his pun-filled limericks, wrote the hardest of hard SF and always got the science right.

The works themselves are often quite short (connect to Perl golf) and have complex, even recursive narrative structures (connect to Perl poetry).

The Key

Anyone who has read much of Asimov's short fiction can think of a dozen similar illustrations. This is my favorite.

In The Key, Asimov's Sherlock, Dr. Wendell Urth cracks a mystery that only begins with a cryptic message, found on the Moon near a man's dead body, partially decoded as Go to Earth. The rest of the (critically important) message is a confusing jumble of puns and possible clues. Dr. Urth explains:

In short, the items have so many meanings that they are meaningless. Even if one of them had meaning, it could not be selected from among the others, so that it is only sensible to suppose that all the items are merely red herrings.

It is necessary, then, to determine what about the message is completely unambiguous, what is perfectly clear. The answer to that can only be that it is a message, that it is a clue to a hiding place. That is the one thing we are certain about isn't it?...

In the last half of the sixteenth century, there lived a German Jesuit in Rome. He was a mathematician and astronomer of note and helped Pope Gregory XIII reform the calendar in 1582.... In 1650... the Moon was mapped by another Jesuit.... The biggest crater Riccioli could find he reserved for his German Jesuit predecessor.

Did you not call this message the key to the whole business? Isn't it the crucial clue?

Well, then -- The name of the German Jesuit I have been speaking of is Christoph Klau -- pronounced "klow." Don't you see the pun? Klau-clue?

[In] the last half of the sixteenth century, European scholars were Latinizing their names... and Christoph Klau became Christopher Clavius, and I suppose you are all aware of the giant crater we call Clavius....

Just let me point out that the Latin word "clavis" means "key." Now do you see the double and bilingual pun? Klau-clue, Clavius-clavis-key.

I would suggest you search the shaded rim of Clavius, at that point where the Earth is nearest the zenith.

I think it is hardly necessary to point out that Perl Hackers are not only lovers of puns. Who else would go to such extreme lengths for a simple joke?

If anyone is entitled to honorary Perlish Sainthood, let it be Dr. Isaac Asimov.

- the lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne -
  • Comment on Re: The science fiction writer who most personifies Perl is:

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Re^2: The science fiction writer who most personifies Perl is:
by Argel (Prior) on Jul 01, 2010 at 17:06 UTC
    Yeah, I was surprised Asimov wasn't on the list. To me it's Asimov as a serious answer and Douglas Adams as a fun answer.

    Elda Taluta; Sarks Sark; Ark Arks

Re^2: The science fiction writer who most personifies Perl is:
by ambrus (Abbot) on Jul 04, 2010 at 10:52 UTC

    List them please.

    Update. We've established in the chatterbox that one could consider the laws of robotics as perlish, so that must be one connection. The blatant and obvious reason must be hubris.

    Update 2010-08-08: ah, nice clear explanations, thanks.

      I would consider the robotic laws, and Asimov's extensive biography exploring those laws, to be far more Python-like than Perl-like. Would Asimov have used Perl as an inspiration for the laws, there would be 4327 of them (251 of them failing if 'strict' is enabled), half of them working differently on weekends, on full moons, or in countries having red in its flag. Oh, and in each new book, there'll be new laws. And in the new series Asimov has been working on for a decade (with an army of co-authors), 3287 laws have either been changed or removed, and 28439 new ones will be added.

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