The Greatest Fictional Versions of Alan Turing

Take a moment away from your computer screen, and give some props to Alan Turing, the code-breaking badass who helped make all this possible. Turing has captured our imagination several times, in books and movies. Here's our potted history of the Father of Computer Science in pop culture.

Sure, Turing hasn't exactly scored the same levels of exposure as Nikola Tesla and other historical greats. But he turns up more often than you'd think. Here are all the appearances of Turing we could find:

The Imitation Game

Let's just get this out of the way right off the bat — the above image is from a brand new movie in which Benedict Cumberbatch, fresh off playing Julian Assange, is portraying the mathematician, alongside Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Allen Leech and Matthew Beard. [Picture via Buzzfeed] The movie is based on Andrew Hodges' book Alan Turing: The Enigma, and IMDB says it comes out in 2014. [Update: Apparently Hodges himself has seen the script and has publicly criticized it for downplaying Turing's homosexuality and making Turing's brief engagement to a woman into a real relationship, rather than an attempt at living a lie.]

Here's another picture, for your delectation:

The Greatest Fictional Versions of Alan Turing

Virtual Girl by Amy Thompson

This fantastic novel about artificial intelligence — still one of the best A.I. novels, even after 20 years — includes an A.I. named Turing, who lives inside a library computer. And one of the novel's lovely moments happens when Turing, the A.I., succeeds in passing the Turing Test — convincing someone that it's human.

The Greatest Fictional Versions of Alan Turing

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Stephenson's novel includes several real-life characters, but Turing gets a pretty prominent placement, being treated "like a deity, having mythological significance because of the impact his work has had on modern computer science," as the American Mathematical Society wrote when the book came out. We witness first-hand Turing's attempts to create a primitive computer, to decipher Nazi messages, and Turing's idea of "computable" numbers is important. When Stephenson's character Waterhouse goes for a walk, he muses that "the ocean is a Turing machine."

Neuromancer by William Gibson

The cyber-police in this novel are the Turing Registry Agents. Also in Idoru, there's a discussion of the Turing Test, and whether "sentience" is something to do with embodiment or density of information.

Turing's Delirium by Edmundo Paz Soldan

This acclaimed Bolivian cyberpunk thriller follows Miguel "Turing" Saenz, a code-breaker who works for a secret government organization called the Black Chamber. He's up against a "cyberhacktivist" who plots revolution. The first sentence goes, "As soon as you turn your back on the uncertain sunrise and enter your office building, you cease to be Miguel Sáenz, the civil servant discernible behind the wrinkled gray suit, round, wire-rimmed glasses, and fearful gaze, and become Turing, decipherer of secrets, relentless pursuer of encoded messages, the pride of the Black Chamber."

Turing: A Novel About Computation by Christos H. Papadimitrou

Published by MIT Press, so you know it's legit. Apparently the hero of this novel is "Turing, an interactive tutoring program and namesake (or virtual emanation?) of Alan Turing, World War II code breaker and father of computer science."

The Greatest Fictional Versions of Alan Turing

Doctor Who, "The Curse of Fenric"

One of the many thrills of the penultimate O.G. Doctor Who story is its cracked-mirror version of Turing, Dr. Judson — a disabled cryptographer who incidentally sidelines in translating some dangerous Viking runes that should have been left alone. [Update: And Turing also is a major character in the Doctor Who novel, The Turing Test. Thanks, David Ennis!]

Incidentally, one of the three Turing machines in existence was stolen by someone who called himself the Master, who left coded messages for the police.

The Greatest Fictional Versions of Alan Turing Alan Turing Monopoly

Turing was a huge fan of Monopoly, so it's fitting that now you can play a version of this classic board game based on his life.

Luck and Death at the End of the World by Nas Hedron

This cyberpunk novel includes a super-powerful A.I. that's taken on the guise of Turing, and guards some massively important secrets. Read some sample chapters here.

Turing & Burroughs: a Beatnik SF Novel by Rudy Rucker

Rucker goes alt-history in this preternaturally loopy book. Quoting from the cover blurb: "What if Alan Turing, founder of the modern computer age, escaped assassination by the secret service to become the lover of Beat author William Burroughs? What if they mutated into giant shapeshifting slugs, fled the FBI, raised Burroughs's wife from the dead, and tweaked the H-bombs of Los Alamos?"

Tangents by Greg Bear

A researcher into multi-dimension theory, Peter Tuthy, flees persecution as a homosexual in the U.K., coming to the U.S. And the award-winning story draws parallels and connections between Tuthy and Turing, who was also persecuted for his sexuality.

The Greatest Fictional Versions of Alan Turing

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

In Stross' Laundryverse novels, Turing "manages to independently discover the math behind the Necronomicon, is subsequently murdered by the British occult secret service for said discovery (covered up as a suicide, of course), and is the father of modern computation demonology in addition to computing," as Otagian says. (Thanks to everyone who reminded us of this one!)

A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin

In this novel, a mysterious narrator intertwines the lives of Kurt Gödel and Turing, showing how their illustrious careers and tragic ends mirror each other.

Codebreaker

Totally missed this one for some reason — thanks to Katje for pointing it up! A 2011 BBC documentary/dramatization in which Ed Stoppard plays Turing.

Atomic Robo

This comic includes an evil A.I. named ALAN who takes on the form of its creator, Alan Turing. (Thanks, Jake Hawken!)

The Imitation Game by Ian McEwan

This 1980 short play features a cryptographer named Tanner who mentors a young woman who's recruited into the Women's Royal Navy — and McEwan said that he wanted to write a play about Turing, but decided to fictionalize instead.

Enigma by Robert Harris

This novel, adapted into a movie script by Tom Stoppard, follows Turing's cryptographic team as they race against time to break the toughest Nazi cipher — although the main character is another cryptographer, Tom Jericho. As Imitation Game writer Graham Moore explains here, "Though clearly inspired by Turing, Jericho is straight, and in fact the love triangle in which he finds himself ends up changing the course of the war. In a sense, we find here an imagined version of Turing's real-life relationship with his fellow codebreaker Joan Clarke, to whom Turing was briefly engaged in 1941."

Breaking the Code

And last but definitely not least, there's Hugh Whitemore's fantastic play, which was adapted for television starring Derek Jacobi — the whole thing is right here, and it's an absolute must watch. Just be prepared to have your heart shredded.

And let's give the last word to Moore himself, whose Imitation Game screenplay topped the Blacklist of the best unproduced scripts: "as Turing's legacy lives on, so should his legend."

Sources: Nassauhedron, BBC