(urth) Urth Digest, Vol 92, Issue 48

Tim O'Donnell timodonn at gmail.com
Mon Apr 16 00:25:28 PDT 2012

Kings under mountains are prevalent in Irish mythology also, they are the
si (pronounced she) or fairy folk.

> Date: Sun, 15 Apr 2012 17:38:11 -0700 (PDT)
> From: Marc Aramini <marcaramini at yahoo.com>
> To: urth at lists.urth.net
> Subject: (urth)  Short Story 19: King Under the Mountain
> Message-ID:
>        <1334536691.41116.YahooMailClassic at web161805.mail.bf1.yahoo.com>
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> King Under the Mountain
> This was first published in If in 1970.
> SUMMARY: Five thousand feet below the earth?s surface, a supercomputer
> fifty years in the making is in charge of all the cities of earth, both
> power maintenance and even economic factors like ?the price of grain
> everywhere in the world?.
>  An ambitious and decorated man has convinced the secretary general (of
> the UN?) that as a reward he should get a chance to see the workings of the
> giant underground computer, because one small change there could change the
> entire world.   He descends the secret elevator and is met by a small man
> whom he thinks little of.    The little man shows the surface man an
> interface manual, and the man asks the computer if he will become chief
> systems analyst before a new secretary general is chosen.  The interface
> manual proves incorrect, and the small man corrects him.  He is answered in
> hexadecimal notation (4E E -9) which is 4 times 16 + 14 divided by 16 to
> the ninth power, or practically zero.
> There is the chance that the previous question put in by the little man
> has not been cleared out, as the junk input of the visitor is inaccurate to
> clear the old question.  The visitor is incensed at the answer and requests
> another interface, at which point the little man produces a helmet for
> direct mental interface.  When the visitor attempts, the lights in the
> display panel indicate that he is doing everything wrong.
> The visitor leaves.  Here it is revealed that his trouble shooting
> schedule for the helmet was the input question before the visitor asked his
> question.  The computer avers that the further probability of action by the
> visitor on the station is A4 E-B (or 11 times 16 plus four divided by 16 to
> the 12th power, a much smaller number than before).  The complete debug of
> the interface is 1e1, or unity (100%).  The helmet should be working before
> he must try for another appropriation, and he cups his hand as if it is a
> telescope and imagines that one of the flashing lights houses a girl
> undressing inside, before he laughs.
> COMMENTARY: This story is all about hubris ? ?He wondered if the little
> man had any concept of how important you had to be to get on line with the
> main computer at Harvard?.  Well, the ?little man? is the custodian of a
> far greater project, and this ambitious Nobel Prize winner cannot even
> begin to communicate effectively with the machine ? every light is red when
> he tries to interface with it.
> He treats the little man as a mere custodian, but the dwarf is the ?king?
> under the mountain, the man who may come to control not simply the machine
> with his interface helmet, but the entire world economy with his mental
> control, and all its energy.  As such, his petty mindset of seeing a naked
> girl in a room is a bit disturbing.  He is in a position soon to have a
> direct mental interface with an object controlling the entire world, and
> the prospect is not positive.
> ALLUSIONS: The engineer or mathematician seeking power underground is a
> specialist in Lobachevskian geometry and seems to have won the Nobel Prize.
>  Lobachevsy had a non-Euclidean scheme for geometry in which parallel lines
> actually curve away from each other over time (ie that more than one line
> can be made to intersect a point on a line and a point off the line).
> The small man calls the computer ?like a cathedral?, because of the vast
> effort and time involved in its construction.   The entire global economy
> seems to be in the hands of the computer, and soon, when the debugging of
> the mental interface is complete, in the hands of the perverted little man
> (if not perverted, at least provocatively imaginative).
> I wanted to talk about the ?King under the mountain? title, which is
> indicative of a very prominent trope in folklore ? a sleeping hero who has
> lain asleep for a long time (Merlin/Arthur, and many, many other legends
> employ this trope.  Here is a brief description of it from Wikipedia:
> ?King in the mountain stories involve legendary heroes, often accompanied
> by armed retainers, sleeping in remote dwellings, including caves on high
> mountaintops, remote islands, or supernatural worlds. The hero is
> frequently a historical figure of some military consequence in the history
> of the nation where the mountain is located.
>  The stories gathered by the Brothers Grimm concerning Frederick
> Barbarossa and Charlemagne are typical of the stories told, and have been
> influential on many told variants and subsequent adaptations. The presence
> of the hero is unsuspected, until some herdsman wanders into the cave,
> typically looking for a lost animal, and sees the hero. The stories almost
> always mention the detail that the hero has grown a long beard, indicative
> of the long time he has slept beneath the mountain.?
>  Well, we don?t quite have that here.  We have an unsuspecting ?man of
> prestige? from the overworld treating a dwarfish fellow with disdain, but
> soon it is likely that this dwarf will hold all the power in the world at
> his twisted fingertips.  There is nothing malicious about him, but there is
> a pettiness that cannot be overlooked.
> The weirdness of the Lobachevsky geometry (lines that bend?) and the
> hexadecimal numbering system also seem to subvert ?business as usual? ?
> under the mountain, things are going to be different, twisted, and
> inverted, and it is only a matter of time before this changes the world
> above.
> FUTURE ECHOES:  Hubris and a need to control everything and
> self-aggrandize are all over Wolfe, from Pas to Baldanders to Lemur.  The
> ability to abuse a technological system that should be trustworthy by
> underestimating its custodians because they are ?nobody? does seem to find
> itself in Wolfe?s long fiction.  Isolation in a computer run environment
> will soon be examined in The Death of Doctor Island.  Hubris and
> overconfidence will also destroy characters in many Wolfe stories, from
> Trip,Trap to Alien Stones to Memorare.
> Next up is Morning Glory on page 229 of Stories from the Old Hotel.
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