While we were in Ann Arbor last month, we stopped by the abolutely amazing Kaleidoscope used and rare bookstore. (I’d link, but can’t find a website.) I knew from our last visit that they have an excellent collection of old sci-fi magazines, so I decided to see if they had any from the month I was born – April 1965. Sure enough, they had a Galaxy from that month. I was surprised how many of the authors I recognized. Here are the stories mentioned on the cover:

  • “Wasted on the Young” by John Brunner
  • “War Against the Yukks” by Keith Laumer
  • “A Wobble in Wockii Futures” by Gordon R. Dickson
  • “Committee of the Whole” by Frank Herbert

That’s an all-star cast right there. However, the story that really made an impression on me was by someone I had never heard of – “The Decision Makers” by Joseph Green. It’s about an alien-contact specialist sent to decide whether a newly discovered species met relevant definitions of intelligence which would interfere with a planned terraforming operation. That’s pretty standard stuff for the SF of the time, but there’s a twist; the aliens, which are called seals, have a sort of collective intelligence which complicates the protagonist’s job. This leads to the passage that might be of interest to my usual technical audience.

Our group memory is an accumulated mass of knowledge which is impressed on the memory areas of young individuals at birth, at least three such young ones for each memory segment. We are a short-lived race, dying of natural causes after eight of your years. As each individual who carries a share of the memory feels death approaching he transfers his part to a newly born child, and thus the knowledge is transferred from generation to generation, forever.

Try to remember that this was written in 1965, long before the networked computer systems today were even imagined, and that the author wasn’t even writing about computers. He was trying to tell a completely different kind of story; the entire excerpt above could have been omitted entirely without affecting the plot. Nonetheless, he managed to describe a form of what we would now call sharding, with replication and even deliberate re-replication to preserve availability. The result should be instantly recognizable to anyone who has studied modern distributed databases such as Voldemort or Riak or Cassandra. A lot of people think of this stuff as cutting edge, but it’s also an incidental part of a barely-remembered story from 1965. Somehow I find that both humbling and hilarious.