Thesis Theater: Mark Lachniet, “Hacker as Magician in Cybermancer Fiction”

Signum University Thesis Theater
Join us on 11 Nov. 2020, at 6pm ET for a Thesis Theater on hackers and magicians


Gabriel Schenk
Gabriel Schenk
Lecturer; Preceptor


November 11, 2020 - 6:00 pm EST


November 11, 2020 - 7:00 pm EST

Signum MA student Mark Lachniet will present his thesis “Hacker as Magician in Cybermancer Fiction” and respond to questions from the audience in an interactive Thesis Theater. The discussion will be facilitated by Mark’s thesis supervisor, Gabriel Schenk.

Thesis Abstract

This thesis argues that computer hackers, as masters of arcane lore and powerful abilities, have become the modern equivalent of wizards in late 20th and early 21st century popular culture. This reflects a shift in portrayals of exceptional temporal power from sorcery to technology, and is demonstrated in a sub-genre here called ‘cybermancer’ fiction in which computer hackers operate as wielders of magical powers. Jungian archetypes are used to explore the connections between hacker and magician protagonists, specifically: the Trickster, the Wise Old Man, and the Shadow, in three works of fiction spanning nearly forty years of technological development. Vernor Vinge’s True Names (1981) is the first work to present an immersive and collaborative computing environment of the type later termed ‘cyberspace’ and envisions computer hackers as free-thinking counter-cultural heroes wielding metaphorical magic as technological ‘warlocks’ to fight injustice. In G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen (2012), hackers fight an authoritarian Middle-Eastern state, wielding supernatural powers within the context of Islamic monotheism. In Charles Stross’s The Laundry Files series (2004-2018), hackers function as benevolent servants of the state to fight Lovecraftian horrors with arcane magic fueled by computer-assisted mathematical operations. While each work represents a different cultural context and explanation for the hacker protagonists’ supernatural power, all three establish strong connections between modern computer hackers and literary depictions of magicians.

About the Presenter

Mark Lachniet is a computer security consultant with over twenty years of professional experience in penetration testing (“ethical hacking”), computer forensics, and regulatory compliance. Mark has worked as the technology director of a K-12 school district, instructor for an NSA-certified MA program in information assurance, and a manager for a Fortune 200 technology company with over $16B annual revenue. Mark is a Licensed Private Investigator, Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) who leverages his experience with hackers and hacker culture to investigate the connections between technology and society in popular culture and literature.

About Signum Thesis Theaters

Our graduate students write a thesis at the end of their degree program, exploring a topic of their choice. The Thesis Theatre is where they can present their thesis to the Signum community and wider public, enabling them to explain their research in detail, and respond to questions from the audience.