Tech-savvy admirers of the late Terry Pratchett have hit upon an idea for a particularly appropriate memorial. It will be everywhere and nowhere, hiding in the code of the internet.
Pratchett’s 33rd Discworld novel, Going Postal, tells of the creation of an internet-like system of communication towers called “the clacks”. When John Dearheart, the son of its inventor, is murdered, a piece of code is written called “GNU John Dearheart” to echo his name up and down the lines. “G” means that the message must be passed on, “N” means “not logged”, and “U” means the message should be turned around at the end of a line. (This was also a realworld tech joke: GNU is a free operating system, and its name stands, with recursive geek humour, for “GNU’s not Unix”.) The code causes Dearheart’s name to be repeated indefinitely throughout the system, because: “A man is not dead while his name is still spoken.”
What better way to remember the beloved inventor of this fictional system, then, than “GNU Terry Pratchett”? Reddit users have designed a code that anyone with basic webcoding knowledge can embed into their own websites (anyone without basic webcoding knowledge can use the plugins for WordPress and other platforms). The code is called the XClacksOverhead, and it sets a header reading “GNU Terry Pratchett”. “If you had to be dead,” thinks a character in Going Postal, “it seemed a lot better to spend your time flying between the towers than lying underground.” And so Pratchett is, in a way.
In the past, literary tributes have taken more visible form. Shortly after the death of Voltaire, a bust of him was put on display, drawing great crowds eager to see his face. And thousands of peasants lined the streets to see Tolstoy’s funeral procession. Statues, of course, were long the memorial of choice: the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa is honoured with a bronze effigy sitting outside his favourite cafe, the Brasileira in Lisbon. But the modern world enables a crowd-generated homage of unique subtletly. GNU Terry Pratchett is not fan graffiti, plastering the author’s name all over the public-facing internet – the tribute is invisible unless you know how to look (“view source” on a browser).
For a digital literary monument, it’s surely much better to avoid the kitsch of a Facebook memorial page. And millions of RIP tweets will soon be lost, like tears in rain. By contrast, the encoding of Pratchett’s name into the fabric of the internet seems a fitting modern homage, as though millions of computers were whispering his name, and chuckling softly to themselves.
Source: The Guardian