Network World, June 22 1987, pages 28-32 The Tolkien Ring Network This short story, based

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Network World, June 22 1987, pages 28-32 The Tolkien Ring Network This short story, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, takes a lighthearted look at the current state of affairs in the communications industry. by William Robinson, Special to Network World [reprinted without permission] ------------------------------------------------------------------------- The gathering storm brought them together. Each had unanswered questions, though not all feared what they might hear. Many knew from what source the storm sprang, and though none were certain, some thought the storm heralded greatness, not destruction. The House of Elrond was honored by the assemblage. Gandalf, the greatest of wizards, Frodo and Bilbo the hobbits, Aragorn and Boromir representing the men, Gimli the dwarf and Legolas the elf were gathered around a great table, discussing the future of Micro Earth, It had been many ages since all the folk of Micro Earth were in Rivendell at the same time, The dwarfs burrowed deep in the mountains, elves wandered the forests, men plowed the fields and hobbits ate. Each spoke their own tongue, and though they knew a common one, they had no reason to use it. Now the rising storm could change all that forever. Gandalf looked at the young hobbit seated next to him. "Bring forth the Ring," he said. "It is time all knew its secret." Frodo paused, as if some unseen force wished to keep the thing hidden from sight. Slowly, he reached into his pocket and drew forth the plain golden ring, heavy in his hand. Forged in the eternal fires of Mount Doom in ages past, the ring bore no mark, no sign of its power, save a line of finely etched runes that only the wise could read. Gandalf spoke in a tongue nearly forgotten, reading the ancient words: "One Ring to rule them, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the Darkness bind them." The Elves present covered their ears and cried in anguish. Elrond spoke for all his people, saying, "Long ages have passed since the language of Sauron was spoken in this hall. Too well do we elves remember our battle against the power of the Blue Lord in the First Age." "Indeed," Gandalf said. "Perhaps we should remind ourselves of that ancient struggle as we debate our course with the Ring of Power." The bearded Wizard told the tale of the battle between Sauron and the folk of Mainframe Earth. He spoke of King Sperry the First, who ruled long and counted many people but in the end could not collect the taxes. He told of the wizard Digital, whose followers wielded the powerful magic of VAX and PDP. Burroughs, the King of Banking, and Cyber, Lord of the 60-Bit Word, entered the tale with many others who fought beside them. "When the battle was over," Gandalf concluded, "Sauron had not won, and yet he had not lost. While his enemies survived, he would dominate their destinies throughout the Age of the Big Machines. All found niches in which they could survive and even prosper, yet none would ever mount a serious challenge to the great Power again." Frodo listened intently, The Ring safely back in his pocket. The Age of Big Machines was fascinating, but he could scarcely see any connection between that great battle and the current crisis, At length, he turned to the aged Wizard and voiced that question. Gandalf considered his reply for some time. "Your question has no easy answer," he said, stroking his beard, "The world has changed, and the power of the Blue Lord is not what it once was. Errors has he made, errors that may yet be his undoing. he remains more powerful than any other, and his followers grow daily more numerous. "The ring is the key. Back upon Sauron's finger, it could bind together the folk of Micro Earth, ending the separation that now marks our lives. Whether the change would be for good or ill. None can yet say." "In the early years of Micro Earth, all was at peace. The young Fruit King of Cupertino ruled beside Commodore Pet, commander of the Navy, and CP/M of the Eight Bits. Youthful exuberance was everywhere, much volleyball was played at lunch, and many BMW's were driven. The Valley of Silicon seemed unconquerable, and the demand for Fruit unlimited." "Far to the East, in a land known only as Armonk, Sauron had built a device of Power. He had seen the Fruit King prosper and grew ever more jealous. Sauron's Machine was greater than the creations of the Fruit King, and Sauron knew his many minions would eagerly seek its Power. He called upon his 500 greatest followers, the Most Fortunate-ate, and quickly did the Machine become their standard." "Loudly did Sauron profess his commitment to the wise God of Open Architecture. Though suspicions remained, wizards in the Valley of Silicon wrote many spells to add Power to the Machine. They devised new Card tricks and worshiped the God of Peripherals." "The Fruit King's power waned, the Princess Lisa died a painful death, and his new fruit was thought less tasty than the old. His fields became full of Mice, and his screens lost their color." "Yet the Valley itself shone as never before. Its people prospered and were happy. Sauron had limited their activities but had rewarded them well. They grew content to work on his engine and soon ceased to dream of creating engines of their own." "Sauron's victory was not complete. The Fruit King did not die, though he came under the thumb of the Cola Lord. When Sauron brought forth the smaller Chiclets-powered Machine, the Fruit King, his Commodore and the wizard Atari destroyed it with little trouble. Sauron's mobile Machine suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Clone Lord Compaq." "Sauron thinks too much in terms of Mainframe Earth and has not adapted well to life in the Micro plain. The price of his Machine is too high for many, and the legend of his strength carries less weight than in ancient times." Frodo fidgeted. Frodo yawned. Bilbo leaned over to his young friend and whispered, "He'll answer your question on the next week or so, don't worry." Gimli spoke, interrupting Gandalf. "What you have told us so far only confirms what my people believe. Sauron has been good for Micro Earth. Surely, the existence of the Clone Lords and the continued power of the Fruit King show the benevolence of Sauron. He is no longer an evil Lord, facing destruction at the hands of the Gods of Antitrust." Fire burned in Gandalf's eyes. "Have you heard nothing that I have said?" he asked the Dwarf, his voice full of anger. "Sauron battles from within. He has destroyed the spark of creativity. He leads, and others follow blindly." The Dwarf stood his ground. "But what of the Clone Lords?" he insisted. Gandalf spoke now as a teacher to a well-meaning but misinformed pupil. "They make machines in the image of Sauron's. What independence does that show? Sauron could eliminate them with ease, were he to change the basic spell by which his Machine is driven. They survive by taxing their folk less, not by their wits. Nay, the fire of innovation burns not within them." He paused for effect. "And," he intoned, "you forget the Ring." Boromir had stood at the mention of the Clone Lords. "Take care in thy criticism of the Clone Lords, Wizard," he said. "The Clones have saved us much, and their are superior to those of the Blue Lord. Yea, though their innovation may be less, we gain by their presence. And you speak falsely when you declare that the Clones could be easily destroyed by Sauron. So long as the Great Spells of Lotus, WordStar and dBase may be cast on the Clone Machines, they can survive any assault by the Lord of Armonk. "Indeed," Boromir continued, "it was the great error of Sauron to keep his taxes so high that the Clones could gather strength. Now, as weeds in his garden, they have strong roots that are difficult to remove. Sauron may even find a backlash on Mainframe Earth, as his 500 Most Fortune-ate followers discover that the three mystic Blue Runes hold less magic than was thought." Boromir sat, satisfied of the truth in his words. Gandalf's face was tense. Frodo looked puzzled, as did many of those assembled. Could it be that the Wizard was less wise than they had thought? Could his vision be failing him at so critical an hour? Or was it Boromir's human frailties that hid the truth from his eyes? Aragorn turned to his friend, and spoke kindly. "There is much in truth in what you say, Boromir of Gondor. Yet one flaw may crack a large stone. As time passes, the Machines become more and more powerful, and the wizards improve the spells that run them. If Sauron changed the Spells of BIOS, the Clones would suffer greatly." "As new and mightier spells of Spreadsheet or Words appeared the Clones would find their Machines rendered useless, their powers a shadow of the might they once possessed. And remember Gandalf's warning not to forget the Ring." At the mention fo the Ring, Frodo snapped back to attention. He felt its cold smoothness in his pocket and asked, "What of the Ring?" Gandalf took this cue. "With the Ring fully in Sauron's power, every Machine on Micro Earth could be bound together. And the Machines of Micro Earth could be bound to those on Mainframe, Sauron's domain. "Great wisdom has been promised to those who would join with him and the Ring: new visions yet unseen, new paths yet untraveled, new worlds open to explore. Above all, the Ring holds the promise of Power. The many Elves of Micro Earth could be linked together, able to share their spells and songs without delay, even over great distances. "But the Ring excludes those who are not compatible with Sauron's plan; some spells work not on the Ring, and simple folk have been turned into Wraiths in the deadly embrace fo the new Machine. The gateways that open path from Machine to Machine often fail, trapping the innocent in limbo between." Once again, Boromir had heard enough. "Wizard," he cried, "every object has many sides, and you reveal but few. The Traders of Gondor can use the Ring to ease their way an lessen their costs. Great groups of Machines, linked together, will speed trade throughout Micro Earth and all will benefit. The Ring opens many doors, and Sauron gains nothing from our passage into most. He forged the Ring, but we can control its Power." Legolas considered what Boromir had said. "I see no difference between the great Ring system you describe and the vast Machines that rule Mainframe Earth," he said. "The same problems may arise. A break in the link can disrupt many, not just one. Secrets can be pirated away down the dark passages. The system grows ever more complex, not like the simple Machines we now use." The elf continued, "There is no gain, only a further loss of the individuality that is slipping like sand through our fingers. A giant collection of simple Machines? Nay, I say that is a great waste. If many must speak, let them use the Machines of Mainframe. I dream of seeing our LAN lush with trees and Fruit, not bound with chains of wire." Frodo was again confused. "I see the advantage for the Traders," he said, "but of what use is the Ring to simple folk who wish for nothing more than a warm home and a cold beer?" Boromir answered, "Through the Power of the Ring, common folk will be able to bank without leaving their homes; they will have access to the Great Markets where stocks are traded, and the financial universe shall open before them. Travelers will be able to obtain rooms at inns, spare horses or berths on the Wind Ships from their dining rooms. Many will be their options." Bilbo smiled sarcastically and whispered to Frodo, "Boromir thinks a commoner is someone with only one Mercedes." Gandalf rose to his feet and spoke in his most commanding voice, "The time has come to stop this debate and decide our course of action. We may cast the Ring into the Cracks of Doom and destroy it, or wield it and face the consequences, good or ill." Frodo spoke, "I will take the Ring to the South, toward Gondor and the Realm of Sauron. It is a long journey, and Destiny will decide our course." Few of the folk around the table had expected such a statement from the quiet hobbit, but quickly they nodded in unspoken agreement: Frodo should lead them to the edge of Sauron's domain. Perhaps then the great forces of Destiny would act to show the way. As Frodo and Bilbo walked down the stone path to the small room they shared, the elder hobbit looked at his friend and asked him why he had chosen this way to travel. Frodo walked on in silence for a moment, as if concerned only with not tripping over cracks in the stones. "I know that the Traders can use the Ring to great advantage, and all of Micro Earth will be enriched," he said. "I fear that Gandalf and Legolas are also right, that creativity and innovation are curtailed by Sauron's scheme." "Though no one mentioned it, I believe that fewer new and unusual spells will be written if the Ring becomes the way of things and people look to share one great spell, rather than buying their own. I have yet to see any advantage for the common folk, but the natural curiosity of men may bring forth some unknown and useful task. Most of all, I feel in my bones that the Ring will come to be used and thought of differently than anyone now suspects." "I will go toward Sauron and the Cracks and hope that along the way I am given a sign to follow. The Ring tempts me. It cries out to be worn and used. Another voice inside me wishes I had never heard of Sauron or his Ring. I may destroy it, or I may give it to Sauron and help him wield it. I only fear that I will have to choose before I know which course is right." The two hobbits continued down the path without speaking, both knowing that further words were unnecessary. The greatest minds on Micro Earth had been gathered around that table, and Bilbo saw that Frodo had the farthest reaching vision of all. The histories of both Micro and Mainframe Earths were full of leaps into the unknown, some successful and some not. Perhaps, Bilbo thought, neatness and order should be brought into the chaos. Perhaps the Wizards should be made to try rational behavior just once. The old hobbit laughed out loud. And perhaps they can teach a pig to sing. -------------------------------------------------------------------------


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank