World of Charlie Stross Watch

Zombies march on Sarah Palin campaign event, as they do in Halting State (although this seems to have been planned well in advance, and that was a flashmob). Charlie couldn’t predict Sarah Palin, however; politics can always outweird science fiction.

Relatedly, the BT 21CN network upgrade always promised to unearth a ton of weird things in the way of surplus real estate. And the daddy of them all, the fortified Kingsway long-lines exchange under High Holborn is on the market. Originally built as a deep air-raid shelter, with a view to later being part of the Central Line, it became part of Special Operations Executive and then, in 1954, one of four major long distance switching centres that got deep bunkers. The others are or were in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. The Manchester facility, codenamed GUARDIAN as in the newspaper, caught fire a few years back, causing a major outage across much of the North West.

There’s video, too; what struck me is that the entire site is painted Light Straw, BT’s standard colour for absolutely everything (including vans when I was a kid), throughout. Supposedly they rejected the first Ericsson AXE digital switch because it didn’t come in light straw.

Among other things, the Kingsway site was the terminal for the first transatlantic telephone cables, and like all really cool stuff, was imported into the science-fiction canon in 1980 by James Herbert, who gave it mutant rats. Read the whole thing; there are some great stories – they locked the facility down for nuclear attack in October 1962 and didn’t come up for two weeks, occasionally it overheated and bits of the walls melted, the canteen originally served a three-course dinner and had trompe l’oeil murals of tropical islands for windows, there was at one point a pub down there as well, and supposedly the original builders were “from another European country and didn’t know where they were”.

Or *what* they were? Seriously; it’s so Laundryesque it’s not true, especially because the SOE department that was down there packed up lock, stock and barrel on VE Day and BT was never informed what they had been up to. (The Laundry, of course, is a section of SOE that somehow didn’t get shut down in 1945 by the career spooks in SIS.)

But the really spooky and science-fictional detail is this: there are no rats.

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