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Turing and the Happy Cloak

I’m working on my third short story about Alan Turing. In the back of my mind I’m hoping that these stories can congeal into a novel with the title, Turing & Burroughs. If the new story works, I may push on ahead with this.

Some SF writers have written Turing stories, but my feeling is that it hasn’t been done quite right. The guy really had something of the beatnik and the rebel about him.

In 2006, I put up a longish post on my initial findings “Alan Turing” , while working on my first Turing story.

This first Turing story, “The Imitation Game” appeared in Interzone and in the Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories edited by Ian Watson and Ian Whates. There’s a link to a podcast of me reading “The Imitation Game” at the blog post, “My Alan Turing Story”

In 2008, I wrote my second Turing story, and posted about the process “Starting ‘Tangier Routines’ ”. The story itself appeared in Flurb # 5.


I’d like to work the Happy Cloak into the third Turing story. I often recall this line from William Burroughs’s The Soft Machine, and chuckle. “You win something like jellyfish, meester. Or it win you.” I write about the Happy Cloak quite a bit in my four Ware Tetralogy novels.

While traveling through Micronesia, I think I wrote the following paragraph in my journals as a pastiche of Burroughs.

Walking into his hotel room, Bradley saw something high in one corner of the ceiling, a gauzy veil, like the mucus casing that a parrot fish exudes to cocoon itself in when sleeping. The shape fell down upon Bradley faster than he could form a complete thought; it slid inside his shirt collar, down inside the band of his trousers and underwear, down his legs and inside his sandals. He felt a sexual burning in every nerve. The boy who’d spoken to him in the street, appeared in his doorway, his lips as bright red with betel nut as if he were a vampire.

Burroughs’s notion of the Happy Cloak is lifted wholesale from SF-writers Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, Fury, 1947, see excerpt on Google Books.

A culture catering to hedonism has its perversions of science. And Blaze could pay well. More than one technician had been wrecked by pleasure-addiction; such men were usually capable — when they were sober. But it was a woman Blaze found, finally, and she was capable only when alive. She lived when she was wearing the Happy Cloak. She wouldn´t live long; Happy Cloak addicts lasted about two years, on the average. The thing was a biological adaptation of an organism found in the Venusian seas. It had been illegally developed, after its potentialities were first realized. In its native state, it got its prey by touching it. After that neuro-contact had been established, the prey was quite satisfied to be ingested.

It was a beautiful garment, a living white like the white of a pearl, shivering softly with rippling lights, stirring with a terrible, ecstatic movement of its own as the lethal symbiosis was established. It was beautiful as the woman technician wore it, as she moved about the bright, quiet room in a tranced concentration upon the task that would pay her enough to insure her death within two years…

The woman, swimming in anticipated ecstasy, managed to touch a summoning signal-button. Then she lay down quietly on the floor, the shining pearly garment caressing her. Her tranced eyes looked up, flat and empty as mirrors. The man who came in gave the Happy Cloak a wide berth.

Burroughs actually uses some of the above text in The Ticket That Exploded , (see Google Books) and he does in fact credit the quote. He uses the Kuttner-Moore stuff after his great line:

“Skin like that very hot for three weeks and then—” the guard snickered “—wearing the Happy Cloak…”

It’s not so well-known that in his final years, Alan Turing was into biological computing systems. I see Alan making a Happy Cloak and wearing it. I haven’t written enough about Happy Cloaks yet…

8 Responses to “Turing and the Happy Cloak”

  1. Alex Says:

    Looking forward to reading your story about Alan Turing.

    I remember back in the 80’s going to see the play “Breaking the Code”.
    It was later made into a TV drama. It’s worth watching.

  2. kek Says:

    “Happy Cloaks” – that’s just so totally genius. I love C L Moore’s stuff – got an antho here somewhere – but have never read that one and certainly wasn’t aware of the Burroughs connection…

    I love the idea of taking throwaway comments or concepts by other writers and respinning it into a fuller cloth.

  3. Rudy Says:

    After my Turing story, “The Imitation Game,” came out, the British writer and critic Colin Harvey remarked that there is a “virtual sub-genre of Alan Turing stories (other writers who’ve trodden the Turing Path include Greg Bear, Greg Egan, Alan Leonard, Janna Levin and Neal Stephenson).”

    The Greg Bear story is “Tangents” from 1986, and doesn’t actually feature Turing, but a person a little like him.

    The Greg Egan story is “Oracle” from 2000, and is more concerned with multiple universes than with Turing. The story is somewhat didactic.

    Janna Levin’s novel, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, from 2006, features Turing and Godel as characters and is written and narrated, as I recall, from the viewpoint of a woman mathematician/author, which makes the word “Madman” in the title a little confusing. I started this novel and set it aside, but I really should go back and finish reading it.

    Alan Turing appears in Neal Stephenson’s novel Cryptonomicon which, I blush to confess, I didn’t finish reading either. I myself am Rudolf “Rudy” von Bitter Rucker…when I met Neal Stephenson a year or two ago he seemed very interested in my name, and I didn’t know why. And now I notice in a plot summary, that in Cryptonomicon, Turing is the sometime lover of a character called Rudolf “Rudy” von Hacklheber. Obviously I need to have another go at reading this novel!

    I can’t track down the Alan Leonard story or novel.

  4. Alex Says:

    I liked Neal Stephenson’s novel Cryptonomicon, it’s my favorite book of his.
    But he gets the British characters at Bletchley Park slightly wrong.
    (Quicksilver was the book of his I couldn’t finish)

    I think Alan Turing is also in Gravity’s Rainbow?

  5. Ken Cunningham Says:

    Very much enjoyed your post on the happy cloak. Compelling way to approach addiction.

    The happy cloak concept reminds me a bit of a short story I read many years ago that I’ve been trying to to locate. Pretty sure it was by Ellison. It was about the discovery of an alien species that would attach itself to the genitals of both men and women and induce ecstasy… addiction then death ensued… global consequences followed, if memory serves. I’ve been going through all my Ellison collection but sadly, can’t find the story

  6. Rudy Says:

    Another SF mention of Turing! My mathematical theologian friend Barry sent me a relevant link to a blog with the info, Religion, Sets and Politics, from which I quote:

    “Charles Stross has written an amusing novel THE ATROICTY ARCHIVES in which Turing figures in the background. The essential premise is that Turing did not commit suicide but was assassinated by the British government to cover up far scarier discoveries he made (so presumably the Brits still owe Turing an apology in that universe). In that novel, mathematics is deeply connected to magic and thinking about certain theorems can accidentally lead to summonings of Cthulhu and other eldritch horrors. Turing was killed for discovering a series of powerful theorems including a proof that P=NP which if invoked improperly could destroy our universe.”

  7. Rudy Says:

    See also the best-selling graphic novel, Logicomix, about the history of researches into the foundations of mathematics. I think Turing is featured in some scenes, though I haven’t read this one yet.

  8. Enon Says:

    “It’s not so well-known that in his final years, Alan Turing was into biological computing systems. ”

    Reminds me of how Jagadis Chandra Bose, who worked with millimetere-wave radio up to 60GHz in the 1890s, and invented the receiver plagiarized by Marconi, went on to investigate plant physiology in the first years of the 20th century.

    The implications of investigations suggested panpsychism:

    His 1902 paper “Responses in the Living and Non-living” showed that plant and animal tissues share a similar electric-impulse response to all forms of stimulation, a finding which challenged conventional science of the time, and also showed that even inanimate objects — certain rocks and metals — have similar responses. In a 1907 paper Bose established the electrotransmission of excitation in plant and animal tissues, and showed that plants respond to sound, by growing more quickly in an environment of gentle speech or soft music, and growing more poorly when subjected to harsh speech or loud music.

    [from the Notable Names Database (NNDB)]


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