Daily Archives: October 13, 2008

Reviewlets: Making Money and A Computer Called LEO

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series has been going for 25 years, as a little sticker proclaims on the front of the latest paperback Making Money, which is an impressive run. Though I no longer rush to buy the books as soon as they’re released it’s rare that they disappoint, and Making Money is no exception. It’s not Pratchett’s best, but like a comfy old pair of slippers the setting is immediately familiar, there are no wild surprises as Moist von Lipwig, central character of Going Postal, is put in charge of the Bank of Ankh Morpork and the Mint, hijinks ensue, and everything concludes most satisfactorily. The appearance of the mint hinted for a moment at Isaac Newton’s role at the mint in Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, but didn’t really develop in that direction.

Making Money continues the evolution of Discworld as concepts from our universe emerge, in this case paper money, and also includes an analogue of an analogue computer (as it were). Previously we’ve seen computers come to Discworld in the form of Hex, somewhat reminiscent of the other book I’ve just finished, A Computer Called LEO.

I’ve been fascinated by early computers, originally from military history and their role in cryptography, then more generally at university in the history of computing. Among pioneering machines LEO (Lyons Electronic Office) is often overlooked, possibly because it was the first business computer, working on payroll and stocking rather than “sexier” projects, but Georgina Ferry’s book redresses this, covering the history of Lyons, a somewhat unlikely hot-bed of business computing, the development of LEO, and, as with many post-war British industries, decline and inevitable government-driven mergers. Most interesting.