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When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth

This story appears in my collection Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present, 2007

Baen's Universe, August 2006
The Rake, December 2006

Podcast: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth">Full cast radio drama, QN Podcast

French fan-translation, courtesy of Zen le Renard (Text, HTML)

Spanish tranlsation (Axxon)

Italian Translation (Fantascienze, Dec 2007)

I started writing When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth on July 6th, 2005, while teaching Clarion. The next day, the London Underground and busses were bombed, including the bus I rode to work every morning (I was in Michigan, teaching Clarion, thankfully). These kinds of coincidences can be spooky when you're a writer. I ended up putting the story away for some months.

When I returned to it, I was fired anew with the story of Felix and Van and their vainglorious struggle to keep the servers online as the world went offline. Once created, apocalyptic anxiety can't be destroyed -- the 1980s fear of nuclear annihilation I grew up with surfaces anew with each theoretical disaster: Y2K, climate change, und so weiter. There's something primal about a story of the Earth's impending doom.

I was a sysadmin at an earlier stage in my career and I have infinite respect for the field: sysadmins are the secret masters of the universe, and they keep your life running.



He piloted the car into the data-center lot, badging in and peeling up a bleary eyelid to let the retinal scanner get a good look at his sleep-depped eyeball.

He stopped at the machine to get himself a guarana/modafinil power-bar and a cup of lethal robot-coffee in a spill-proof clean-room sippy-cup. He wolfed down the bar and sipped the coffee, then let the inner door read his hand-geometry and size him up for a moment. It sighed open and gusted the airlock’s load of positively pressurized air over him as he passed finally to the inner sanctum.

It was bedlam. The cages were designed to let two or three sysadmins maneuver around them at a time. Every other inch of cubic space was given over to humming racks of servers and routers and drives. Jammed among them were no fewer than twenty other sysadmins. It was a regular convention of black tee-shirts with inexplicable slogans, bellies overlapping belts with phones and multitools.

Normally it was practically freezing in the cage, but all those bodies were overheating the small, enclosed space. Five or six looked up and grimaced when he came through. Two greeted him by name. He threaded his belly through the press and the cages, toward the Ardent racks in the back of the room.


47 Responses to “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth”

  1. [...] (Cory Doctorow, SF writer.) [...]

  2. WorldMaker says:

    Don't kick me for nitpicking, but I believe it should be spelled "und so weiter" (but yes, pronounced with a z), and it works well abbreviated, although usw is a bit less common than etc (but nicer than the Endlish asf, and so forth).

    Interestingly enough, using the Google method of testing things half-remembered, "und so weiter" pulls up some German sites (such as a German title on IMDB) whereas "und zo weiter" picks up quite a few Cory Doctorow links... At least you appear to be consistent!

  3. Angela says:

    Unrelated comment...but thanks for the heads up on the FSOSS2006
    symposium...really helped me out with my research

  4. [...] have a soft spot for “end of the world” stories and on of my most recent favorite is When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth by the one andonly Cory Doctorow.The podcast is excellent.  # [...]

  5. Barry says:

    Why publish this through a paid magazine instead of releasing it for public consumption as you have your previous works?

  6. CJ says:

    Looks like a great story, but I'm just not into podcasts... I really prefer reading text, then I can read at my own pace. I find my mind tends to drift while I'm listening to someone else read! Any chance you'll release this as a CC licensed text like some of your others?

  7. Cory Doctorow says:

    Indeed I will -- but it'll be a while. It appears in a short story collection that's being CC licensed and published in Jan.

  8. [...] My second short story collection is Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present, from Thunder’s Mouth Press. It contains six of my favorite, net-centric tales: Printcrime, When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth, Anda’s Game, I, Robot, I, Row-Boat, and After the Siege. [...]

  9. [...] You can download the story here, and you can download our song World Ending to go with it here. [...]

  10. [...] I’m especially excited about the Best Novelette category, where I’m eligible twice: first for my story When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth, about the geeks who babysit the Internet after the apocalypse; and I, Row-Boat about robots who find religion in Asimovism after the humans all leave the planet. Both stories have been picked up for several reprints, including some of the Year’s Best anthologies, and I’ve got Locus Award hopes there, too! If I had to pick one (and I do) I’d pick Sysadmins. I think it’s got a little more heart. [...]

  11. [...] The finalists for the Locus Award for the best science fiction of 2006 have been announced and I’m proud as anything to announce that two of my novelettes made the shortlist, I, Row-Boat and When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth (both are from my new collection Overclocked). The list is filled with really wonderful fiction. As I mentioned before, 2006 was a banner year for sf. [...]

  12. [...] As inspiration for my writing project, I’ve been checking out some Cory Doctorow podcasts. “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” was particularly good to give a listen as I walked the dog. My wife had gone downtown to work on her hobby. She’s making fantastic crystal and bead jewelry taught in a small shop in the underground shopping district. It’s intensive detail work that gets her out of the house for hours of the time. We agreed to meet later in the afternoon and eat dinner downtown, as I loaded up with more podcasts. [...]

  13. [...] I could not be happier right now! My novella, When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth (published in my collection Overclocked) just won the Locus Award for best novelette of 2006. A million thanks to everyone who voted for it — I’ve got a 12h plane ride coming up, and this’ll keep me warm the whole way. [...]

  14. [...] Jun 17th, 2007 by Andrew BoingBoing-er, author, and all around nerd Cory Doctorow won the Locus Award for Best Novelette of 2006 for his short story When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth. The story appeared in his latest short story collection Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present and he was kind enough to podcast it (which is where I heard it). Congrats Cory! [...]

  15. [...] Science Fiction aus unserer modernen Welt: When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth ist eine Endzeitnovelle vom kanadischen Autor Cory Doctorow (Foto) handelt vom Systemadmin Felix, der in einem Serverraum die Apocalypse überlebt: I was a sysadmin at an earlier stage in my career and I have infinite respect for the field: sysadmins are the secret masters of the universe, and they keep you life running. Doctorow selbst über Sysadmins [...]

  16. [...] when sysadmins ruled the earth You must read “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” (link to full story text), a fantastic, and scary, and grab-you-by-the-throat, and not-want-to-let-it-until-it’s-over story authored by Cory Doctorow.  As Cory writes in his site, he started writing the story just as London was being bombed by terrorists in July 2005.  The story chronicles a doomsday scenario of end-of-the-world apocalypse, with massive attacks and counterattacks (everyone against everyone else) and the attempt of Toronto based sysadmins to keep their servers up and running in the midst of the attack.  The rebuilding of the democratic process, the first cyber elections, the restoration of life are all blended together.  The story earned the 2007 Locus Award for best novelette. [...]

  17. [...] If you want to see for yourself what I’m blabbering about check out the podcast here or the full text here. [...]

  18. Josh Glover says:

    Mr. Doctorow,

    One of the members of the Tokyo Linux Users Group (http://tlug.jp/) is very interested in translating your excellent short story, "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth", into Vietnamese. I think there is also interest on the list in translating it into at least Japanese (I am going to work on that, but I will need to recruit a native speaker to edit it) and quite possibly other languages spoken by our list members (Bulgarian, German, Finnish, French, Swedish, Icelandic, who knows?).

    According to this page, it appears that this story is covered by the CC Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial 1.0 (by the way, major props for using CC licences for your work!) licence, so that would mean that our translations are 100% OK, right?

    I just wanted to ask for your permission / let you know of our interest, to be sure you are cool with it.

    Our translation effort is based in our wiki, here:

    http://www.tlug.jp/wiki/Translations:When_Sysadmins_Ruled_the_Earth

    Cheers,
    Josh

  19. Cory Doctorow says:

    Absolutely right, Josh -- can't wait to see the translations!

  20. [...] Então copio aqui o texto que meu ídolo Cory Doctorow colocou hoje no BB, tirado de seu discurso ao receber um prêmio por seu conto When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth:Systems administrators are the unsung heroes of the twenty first century, our tireless morlocks who keep the entire universe running. The best sysadmins I’ve met treat their jobs as holy callings. They understand that they’re keeping the infrastructure of the information age alive and functional. :: Escrito por Cristiano Dias, dia 27 Jul 2007, 14:11, em Nêeerd!, Sai pra lá bug!. [...]

  21. [...] When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth. A short story from Cory Doctorow. [...]

  22. [...] When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth. A short story from Cory Doctorow. [...]

  23. [...] Zen le Renard, a French reader of my stories, has translated my story When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth, which appeared in my short story collection Overclocked and was released under a Creative Commons license that allows for noncommercial remixing. Zen le Renard reads English, but wanted to share the story with his monolingual sysadmin friends in France, so he took on the project. Voila! Quand le mobile de Félix se mit à sonner à 2 heures du mat, Kelly se retourna, lui tapa l’épaule et grogna « Pourquoi t’as pas éteint ce putain de téléphone avant qu’on se couche ? » [...]

  24. [...] Zen le Renard, a French reader of my stories, has translated my story When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth, which appeared in my short story collection Overclocked and was released under a Creative Commons license that allows for noncommercial remixing. Zen le Renard reads English, but wanted to share the story with his monolingual sysadmin friends in France, so he took on the project. Voila! Quand le mobile de Félix se mit à sonner à 2 heures du mat, Kelly se retourna, lui tapa l’épaule et grogna « Pourquoi t’as pas éteint ce putain de téléphone avant qu’on se couche ? » [...]

  25. [...] Zen le Renard, a French reader of my stories, has translated my story When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth, which appeared in my short story collection Overclocked and was released under a Creative Commons license that allows for noncommercial remixing. Zen le Renard reads English, but wanted to share the story with his monolingual sysadmin friends in France, so he took on the project. Voila! Quand le mobile de Félix se mit à sonner à 2 heures du mat, Kelly se retourna, lui tapa l’épaule et grogna « Pourquoi t’as pas éteint ce putain de téléphone avant qu’on se couche ? » [...]

  26. [...] Zen le Renard, a French reader of my stories, has translated my story When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth, which appeared in my short story collection Overclocked and was released under a Creative Commons license that allows for noncommercial remixing. Zen le Renard reads English, but wanted to share the story with his monolingual sysadmin friends in France, so he took on the project. Voila! Quand le mobile de Félix se mit à sonner à 2 heures du mat, Kelly se retourna, lui tapa l’épaule et grogna « Pourquoi t’as pas éteint ce putain de téléphone avant qu’on se couche ? » [...]

  27. [...] I’ve been carrying Rewired around with me, testing it out as a physical object and finally reading the stories that I didn’t get to during book production. I’m pleased with the way this one came out; it’s light and portable, even though it’s a big book, and it seems comfortable to read, which is the whole point. (The typefaces used throughout, apart from the title on the cover, are varieties of Josh Darden’s Freight family.) Good stories, too. Cory’s own remarkably moving story “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” is one of the highlights. [...]

  28. [...] The Italian magazine Delos Science Fiction has published Stefano Bonora’s Creative Common-licensed translation of my story When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth, under the title “Quando i sistemisti domineranno la Terra.” [...]

  29. [...] As an added bonus, the Italian magazine Delos Science Fiction has just posted Stefano Bonora’s Creative Commons-licensed translation of my award-winning story When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth. [...]

  30. [...] loved the movie 12 Monkeys. The Andromeda Strain, When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth and I am Legend/Omega Man (too bad, it’s in the zombie list too, deal with it) are also [...]

  31. [...] vous conseille aussi de lire la nouvelle “When Sysadmin ruled the world” (avec un très bonne traduction en français bénévole), une merveille pour tous les geek du monde [...]

  32. [...] the topic of the Declaration of Independece of Cyberspace while reading Cory Doctorow’s When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth. Thougth it was an interesting topic and decided to share it with IMP faithful [...]

  33. [...] découvert grâce au blog de Quenton ce printemps: “When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth” de Cory Doctorow et traduite en français par Zen Le Renard. Cette nouvelle de science-fiction met en scène Félix, [...]

  34. [...] read the book When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth by Cory Doctorow, and it was surprisingly easy to read on the small iPhone screen, as long as it is [...]

  35. [...] full-cast radio drama based on my apocalyptic, award-winning, Creative Commons licensed short story When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth. I had no idea they were working on it until they told me they'd completed it -- it blew me out of [...]

  36. [...] full-cast radio drama based on my apocalyptic, award-winning, Creative Commons licensed short story When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth. I had no idea they were working on it until they told me they’d completed it — it blew [...]

  37. [...] full-cast radio drama based on my apocalyptic, award-winning, Creative Commons licensed short story When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth. I had no idea they were working on it until they told me they’d completed it — it blew [...]

  38. [...] Read them a bedtime story. Just kidding. Please be less creepy and send them some good IT-related reading instead. This [...]

  39. [...] Read them a bedtime story. Just kidding. Please be less creepy and send them some good IT-related reading instead. This [...]

  40. [...] Read them a bedtime story. Just kidding. Please be less creepy and send them some good IT-related reading instead. This [...]

  41. [...] Read them a bedtime story. Just kidding. Please be less creepy and send them some good IT-related reading instead. This [...]

  42. [...] Read them a bedtime story. Just kidding. Please be less creepy and send them some good IT-related reading instead. This [...]

  43. [...] When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth at Doctorow’s Craphound [...]

  44. [...] est un des lieux de When the sysadmin rule the earth [FR], de Cory Doctorow. C’est l’occasion de la (re)lire [...]

  45. [...] know one day you may need to have it on SOS mode (which If you’ve read Cory Doctorow’s When’s Sysadmins Ruled the Earth you might be able to envisage). Our data centre has a lack of lighting at the top end so it’s [...]

  46. [...] When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth by Cory Doctorow [...]

  47. [...] and they keep your life running.” says Cory Doctorow, writing about his short story, “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth“. A post apocalyptic tale where the aforementioned sysadmins are the unlikely heroes, I was [...]

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