Wizards and wires
I’ve read another book! It was The Midwich Cuckoos, written in by John Wyndham in 1957. Two extracts stood out, what with, you know, the internet, drone warfare and all that.
Here, the narrator, Richard Gayford, visits Gordon Zellaby, who is listening to an “excellently reproduced” Bach recording on some new-fangled audio gear (an all-transistor phonogaph, perhaps? They first appeared in 1955, apparently). Without speaking, Zellaby invites Gayford to sit, which they do in silence until the recording is finished, whereupon Zellaby explains.
“‘I hope you don’t mind,’ he apologized. ‘One feels that once Bach has started his pattern he should be allowed to finish it. Besides,’ he added, glancing at the playing cabinet, ‘we still lack a code for dealing with these innovations. Is the art of the musician less worthy of respect simply because he is not present in person? What is the gracious thing? – For me to defer to you, for you to defer to me, or for both of us to defer to genius – even genius at second-hand? Nobody can tell us. We shall never know. We don’t seem to be good at integrating novelties with our social lives, do we? The world of the etiquette book fell to pieces at the end of the last century, and there has been no code of manners to tell us how to deal with anything invented since. Not even rules for an individualist to break, which is itself another blow at freedom. Rather a pity, don’t you think?’”
The other extract crops up in a speculative conversation about the cause of the so-called Dayout, an event in which the people of Midwich were rendered unconscious for a time, leading to the strange events which follow (problem children, to put mildly). A Colonel Latcher observers:
“Soldiering’ll soon be nothing but wizards and wires.”
Perhaps that wasn’t a particularly foresightful or controversial statement in 1957, but still, if you look past the superficial meaning of the word wires (metal string, if you like) to the underlying thrust of what wires do, i.e. allow change to be effected remotely, it’s a rather good line.