Worldbuilding Wednesday 4/7/21: Atompunk Computers

Atompunk computers deserve their own nomenclature. Running on vacuum tubes and early transistors, and programmed with miles of magnetic tape and punch cards, in the media they were mostly objects of menace. Many classic SF stories of the age revolve around artificial intelligence taking charge of humans and becoming their overlord.

In the movie Colossus: The Forbin Project, pictured above, a computer programmed to safeguard the U.S.A.’s nuclear weapons develops sentience and manages to take over the world. Released in 1970, but set in the late twentieth century, the designers obviously took care with the machine’s design, basing it on the computers used at the time. Still, to today’s audience, it looks like nothing more than a bunch of colored buttons set in a wall, monitors based on microfiche readers, and a few teletype machines.

Interestingly the movie depicted several women and a POC man as scientists who run the machine (with the aid of those trimline phones in the background, I’m sure.)

A year after Colossus was released came a nifty made-for-TV movie called Paper Man, which starred perennial actor Dean Stockwell. A group of college kids use a computer called Q-7 to create a “paper man” — a fictitious human being with all the right stats that exists only the database. They use it to apply for credit cards and the like, but the computer winds up killing them. The promo commercials imply the murderer is an actual robot-like being made of paper that walks around.

As a child I watched the whole thing, winding up disappointed that it wasn’t a Frankenstein for the computer age. I vaguely recall the computer builds the paper man only at the very end, only for Dean Stockwell to knock its flimsy self down. Or maybe the computer spat out a series of punch cards at him. I’ve heard the whole movie is available on Amazon Prime, so I’ll have to watch it again to find out.

The computer Q-7 itself is correctly depicted as being in a campus basement, but still seems too photogenic for the time with all its flashing lights.

Here’s a pic of an early IBM model at Iowa State University for comparison.

If you need a villanous computer of your own, here’s a randomgenned list.


Computers of the Atompunk Age



Intelli III

Mentat 9

The Iron Scholar


Dr. Astro

Telethinker 5000

Sim-Wiz 87



Delta Sage Mark II





Transintellivac V

RAMiac 6

Sola-Brain X


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  1. […] also is limited to 70s era technology. As in the movie Colossus, there is a master computer system that helps run things, such as assigning work and allocating […]

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