Computer Culture Books

Here I list books that students of Computer Science, as well as pure hobby-hackers, might enjoy reading - either to recognize themselves in the books or to try to walk in the footprints of "the Great Ones."

The selection is limited to my own personal bookshelf. However, if you know about some title that really belong here - drop me a mail, so that I know to be on the look out for that particular book. ;-)

I also keep a list over my collection of technical literature and a page covering my most recently read books.

Some books are pure fiction with some computer connections, others are technical literature regarding the field of science or the peoples involved in it.

Fiction A common novel, that "could" take place right now, right around the corner.
Science Fiction    Science Fiction, that is, the plot in this novel will probably not happen the next few years, or never at all. It could be a possible future though.
Biographical    A book that describes one or many real persons or some special thing or event. In general, most biographies are about famous dead people - the ones on this page is instead about Computer Scientist and computer-related stuff.
Manifesto In lack of better words. The author uses the book-form to directly express his own views, instead of letting the novel characters give voice to them.
Research Simply a work of scientific research, most commonly a doctoral thesis.

If you happen to find some of the mini-reviews shorter than the others (or even non-existing), it just means that it was quite some time since I read that book (or even that it just have collected dust in my bookshelf since I got it). Seriously, it is pretty easy to discern what books I actually have read properly since creating this page. However, if you just bear with me, I plan to eventually get around to read or reread the ones with very non-informative descriptions.

Number of books in this list right now: 35

Click on heading to sort list after column contents (I just love to beat up a Perl-script).

Author(s) Title Type Year
Coupland, Douglas Microserfs (Mikroslavar) Fiction 1995
Almost all Coupland's, the author of "Generation X," books are great, especially "Girlfriend in a Coma." In "Microserfs," we follow a few members of the "ironic generation" as they leave their relative security at Microsoft to start their own Software Company. Relaxed, easy and funny to read, intermixed with pages typical to Coupland. See for yourself! (And try to read it in English if you have the chance.)

Gibson, William Neuromancer Science Fiction 1984
A truly ground-breaking novel. Written, back in -84, on an ordinary, mechanical typewriter, it contains a dark vision of the future where the governments have been overtaken by a few global companies. Most business revolves through "the Matrix" - the global network which our Internet might be evolving into. The ones who have the ability to crack the advanced systems of "the Matrix" can always find people who want to pay them to do it. This is the first of Gibson's great science fiction novels.

Gibson, William Virtual Light Science Fiction 1993
This is the first novel in Gibson's second cyberpunk trilogy. It contains all the hallmarks of Gibson, but is yet the weakest in the trilogy (not that it is bad, but for any of them to be best, one of them has to be a bit less). The plot is a bit more sketchy than the other two, but it is still a true Gibsonian story were a collection of original characters by chance get their destinies mixed up - tangled - for a brief, intensive span of time. Gibson describes one possible future, and does it quite convincing. Even if he paints a, in many ways, dark future, he skillfully builds it on top of our present, which makes it much more plausible."Virtual Light" refers to visions induced, not by ordinary light-carrying photons, but by electro-magnetic pulses right on the optic nerve, bypassing the eye completely. Originally developed as a visual aid for blind people, VL-equipment can add information to the ordinary vision of seeing people. This technique is, to my knowledge, just a research subject today - but tomorrow, who knows? In "Virtual Light", a pair of VL-glasses, used for carrying some sensitive information, happens to find their way to a young bike messenger, who also is one of the inhabitants of the bridge community of the Golden Gate. Of course, the owners of the information wants the glasses back badly...

Gibson, William Idoru Science Fiction 1996
This is the second novel in Gibson's second cyberpunk trilogy. In the centre of this novel stands Rez, half of the worlds most famous rock-band Lo/Rez, and the Rei Toei, an Idoru (an artificial, computer generated artist). The rumour that Rez and Rei are going to get married sets a lot of things in motion - among these young Chia from the Seattle chapter of the Lo/Rez fan club, who gets send to Japan to investigate the rumour and, as in all Gibson's novels, happens - incidently - to get tangled up in a lot of strange affairs. Gibson's language is very typical. He creates a fascinating presence for the reader by a terse, impression-driven prose. Instead of describing a room, person or event in depth, Gibson lists the things you would see and remember if just briefly glancing at the object in question. Very often, a few details stands out from the rest. It is these details Gibson use to convey his descriptions to the readers. This very cool way of writing can drive some readers nuts, which is sad, because they might otherwise like the contents of Gibson's novels, even if they cannot stand the form.

Gibson, William All Tomorrow's parties Science Fiction 1999
This was quite unexpected! With the exception of Gibson's first and most influencing novel "Neuromancer", I have to say that "All Tomorrow's Parties" is his best one. The third and last in his second trilogy, it has a better and deeper plot as it weaves together the stories of "Virtual Light" and "Idoru", taking it much further and to higher levels. It is peculiar how the same author can write novels of so variating quality. What might have inspired Gibson these last years to make something this great out of "All Tomorrow's Parties"? As for the actual plot, you know that I am reluctant to tell to much, but we once again meet the main characters from the last two novels, and once again visit the interstitial bridge community of the Golden Gate in San Francisco. There, a Sumo-wrestler-looking desk-clerk in an antique shop for old hardware shares with us the two main theories of why we in our time always made computers in boring shades of beige.

Gibson, William Pattern Matching Fiction 2003
You know the way we imagine what we want, be it a item or a partner? In reality, these visions are nothing more than projections of ourselves and our own preferences. When we get what we want, it seldom matches our anticipations but still satisfies us. Gibson's latest novel "Pattern Recognition" contains an abundance of elements that lies close to my likings, which - of course - makes my appreciation of it immense.

Take the main character, Cayce. Gibson has made her such a close match to what I imagine I like in women that my appreciation of her borders to love. It do not matter that we (probably) are more different than alike - I only remembers the colours she dresses in and that she seldom remembers what she dreams, just like me. Do I need to tell you that I find the novel quite great?

Gibson has left the dystopian cyberpunk future and lets "Pattern Recognition" take place in our time, right now. His ability to create a believable future by focusing on the small details - the keyhole-peeping technique - now works astoundingly well to highlight the elements in our world that indicates that we in the twenty-first century in a way are already living in the science fiction future we still only expects tomorrow to bring.

The underlying theme of the novel consists of the modern abundance of trademarks and marketing strategies. This makes the book altogether more comparable in thesis and vision, if not in form and exact contents, with the economists Ridderstråle and Nordström's book "Funky Business" about our modern, global economy.

All in all, a pretty typical Gibson novel, despite the contemporary rather than future setting.

Hafner, Katie & Lyon, Matthew Where Wizards stay up Late: the Origins of the Internet Biographical 1996
The fascinating story about the people behind the events that happened around a small network which eventually would emerge to the global Internet as we know it today. In my opinion, it should be compulsory reading in every course in Data Communication and Computer Networks - not for learning facts, but to gain a deeper understanding.

Hodges, Andrew Alan Turing, The Enigma of Intelligence Biographical 1983
This was the most complete and entertaining biography I have read in a long, long time. Who would have thought that another mathematician could write a biography that rivals the classical ones on historic people in depth an coverage? In fact, I have seldom come across a biography that goes to such lengths to put the events in the subject's life in perspective to the current state of the world and society surrounding him/her. Thus, as well as telling the tale of Alan Turing, it also doubles as a book about the British society through the end of the Empire, the world wars, the depression and the dawning of the cold war, as well as the second world war in itself, the academic worlds of Britain (especially Cambridge) and USA, and the situation for homosexuals. And it is very readable too, even if a bit demanding.

Andrew Hodges has done a tremendous effort to compile so much facts about Alan Mathison Turing, mostly by interviewing people that met Turing during his lifetime. I guess it would never have been done unless Hodges himself had been both a mathematician and gay, and had deeply felt that the story about Turing badly needed to be told.

On the matter of Turing himself, apparently he was never treated with electrical shocks for his homosexuality as is rumoured. He did get treated with oestrogen, though, and actually started to develop breast as a side effect. An other probable side effect was severe depression, because not long after he ended his life by eating an apple dipped in cyanide...

Turing was a true genius, but a rough one. Had he been able to better communicate and interact socially (that is, be bothered with all the fuss of life he never understood the rationale of), the fields of computer science and machinery had probably developed even quicker than it now did. For instance, Turing's original specifications for the ACE (an early British computer project) contained more than a few details that only got reinvented and implemented ten years, or more, after his death.

Turing loved to work independently with a problem no-one else had done anything with yet. When a field got too crowded, Turing's lost interest in it and moved on. The same way engineers could get surprised by his knowledge in electronics, (knowledge mathematicians usually did not possess nor even desire) his fellow mathematicians were surprised by the things within mathematics he did not know. Turing walked his own ways and often reinvented mathematic methods when he needed them, rather than learn them proper in advance.

What I did not know was how wide his fields of interest were. What is usually associated with Turing is computability, early computer science, early artificial intelligence (philosophical), and cryptography, but did you know that he also worked with chemistry, biology and, as his last huge interest, morphogenetics, that is, the formation and differentiation of tissues and organs (how can a bunch of identical cells know how to organise themselves into the different sorts that together forms, for instance, living creatures).

I would say that this was a more important book than one might think. Turing may have been a pretty odd fellow that never cared for conformity. Thus, he might differ a lot from you and me. Yet we can learn not only from him, but from how he got treated by the world and why. If this brief review has stirred your interest the least, read it!

So, what is in it for the average computer scientists? Well, apart from the fascinating life story of one of the first that can qualify as an computer scientist, we also get a fair share of cryptography, computability (Turing machines), and the early basics of computer programming and machinery. This book presents the early choices of computer design much better than the textbooks on, for instance, computer architecture.

Kaplan, Jerry Startup Biographical 1994
This one was not bad at all. Kaplan can write, which makes his book so much readable than if he just had been another eye-witness to a more or less interesting story, who puts out a unreadable book about it. Kaplan's story is also quite educational, if not uttermost interesting. It is about the short lifespan of his company GO, which pioneered pen-computing as early as 1987 - 1994. Basicly, it is a sad tale about how corporate law, big company politics, and investment funding set the rules for your company, regardless of how great your product is. The main theme of the book is the continuing struggle for enough investor-money to keep the company above water, the second main theme is how big companies as Microsoft and IBM steps on a the little company. In the end, GO has to give up their dreams of success, but they can take comfort in the fact that they made a lasting impression in the area of pen computers, today most visible in the great success of 3Com's PalmPilot. With the PalmPilot in mind, it is very fun to read about GO's PenPoint, which was first with lots of typical pen computer characteristics, but was much larger and heavier. If you ever have thought about starting your own computer or software business, this is great reading which can warn you of lots of pits there are to fall into.

Levy, Steven Hackers Biographical 1984
This can only be described as a history book about how today's global computerization originally started. The first (and best) part tells the tale about how the first generation of hackers emerges at MIT during the fifties and sixties (very fascinating). The second part follows the second generation hackers, fiddling with electronics and home-brewing early computers, which ultimately leads to Jobs' and Wozniak's creation of the Apple in their garage. The third part is about the third generation of hackers, the game programmers which wrote great games that sometimes even side-stepped the hardware limits of the early Apple and Atari models. Levy devotedly describes "the Hacker Ethics," the principles of sharing that marked the early hackers. All of them is sadly not quite applicable today, but they are still honourable ideas to be missed.

Levy, Steven Artificial Life Biographical 1992
Levy turns to the question of Artificial Life through the means of computer software.

Levy, Steven Insanely Great Biographical 1994
I admit that I personally have little patience with Mac-working - I am too addicted to command line interfaces and get very frustrated with the Macintosh's sole mouse button. Yet I can appreciate that the Macintosh (and most recently, the iMac) is the best choice for computer illiterates. Anyway, even if this book is devoted to the life and times of the Macintosh, I find it very interesting. Stephen Levy writes very well when he describes the history and development of the Mac. Aside of the main theme of history of computing, it also contains lessons on Human-Computer Interaction (for instance, why just one mouse button) and what to do and not to do when marketing a computer (it seems that Apple as a company have made lots of mistakes over the years). Who know? Perhaps we wouldn't have graphical window-interfaces on our computers if the Macintosh never been.

Piñeiro, Erik The Aesthetics of Code Research 2003
Believe it or not, but I found this book in the garbage room (paper recycling bin) when dumping lots of old papers during the relocation of my department to a new building. It is actually a doctoral thesis - nothing strange about that. However, Piñeiro was a Ph.D. student at the department of Industrial Management - yet he choose to do a study on programming and that from the programmers rather than the managers perspective!

His main thesis is that managers of software project would do better if they acknowledged and made room for the personal aspects of programming, rather than suppressing them. He argues that while programming mainly is seen as an instrumental process (to translate a solution to a problem to something the machine can understand), it is actually a both personal and creative process. He goes on identifying several key factors that programmers among themselves use to determine the beauty of code. This beauty, he argues, is tied to the quality of software and should therefore not be suppressed as ugly code makes for unhappy programmers and bad quality.

The thesis is easy to follow, with lots of examples collected from Piñeiro main source of input: Slashdot! (http://slashdot.org/) He begun with some interviews but was not satisfied before stumbling on just a few threads on code beauty at Slashdot. These threads he has read very carefully, drawing parallels were possible to lots of literature on Computing Science (for instance Knuth, Dijkstra, and Brooks' "The Mythological Man-Month") and philosophy (for instance Heidegger, Kant, and Wittgenstein).

You know the holy-wars between, for instance, programmers who use vi and those unfortunate that use Emacs? Piñeiro identifies several more situations where the programmer community uses religious terminology and then finds support in modern philosophy for making rather extensive parallels between programming and religion, down to sacrifices! Fascinating stuff.

I, as a programmer, had expected Piñeiro to somewhere cross a line, make a fool of himself, and annoy me greatly. However, this never happened. He thread lightly and sure-footed around all kinds of aspects of programming and made sure never to pick sides, always remaining the neutral observer, drawing more general conclusions. I think it is of great value, as a programmer, to read this thesis and kind of get an objective perspective on one's own aesthetic preferences and idiosyncrasies when programming. However, it is really meant as a tool for managers to become more insightful and better managers.

Ridderstråle, Jonas & Nordström, Kjell Funky Business Biographical 1999
This is something quite remarkable - a book about economy, written by economists, that I - a computer scientist - really enjoyed reading. It is far from an ordinary economy book though. Rather, it is a great book about our present time, and the influences the present time brings on all kinds of business and on our lives. It is packed full with small, thought-provoking facts. For instance, as a illustration to the fact that we are - and need to be - more well educated today than ever before, it is stated that only 15% of the Americans who fought in the Vietnam War had a college degree, while as many as 99.3% of the Americans in Operation Desert Storm had one. You can both read it as a manual for managing a business or being a customer. Either way, it is insightful reading. I could not help comparing some of the in the book described present trends in the corporate world - new necessities for companies to assert survival - with the worlds of the Cyberpunk authors (Gibson, Sterling, Stephenson). There are lots of similarities. For instance, "Funky Business" gives governments and national borders less significance as all companies now act in a global market. Many Cyberpunk novels picture a post-governmental world, were the big companies are in control and the governments pretty powerless, if they are left at all. In a way, "Funky Business" describes a Cyberpunk society that is already here. You do not need to be in to neither computers nor economy to enjoy this book. All you need is to be a little curious of the world we live in today.

Rushkoff, Douglas Cyberia Biographical 1994
Salus, Peter H. A Quarter Century of Unix Biographical 1994
This is a pretty thin and somewhat fragmented book - the line of thought tend to get confused at times by back- and forward references. Still, it is one of the very best computer science related biographies I have ever read (and remember that I am a collector of such).

It covers, as the title suggests, the history of Unix and is in form similar to Hafner and Lyon's "Where Wizards Stay Up Late: On the Origins of the Internet". That is, we are presented with the people who played the key roles, the parts they played, and often their own stories in their own words (which is very interesting to read).

To me, the main advantage of this book is that it, by starting from the very beginning, manages to unravel and untangle the complicated history of Unix. It is so much more easy to learn the relations of different Unix dialects when there are just a few to remember, and where new ones get introduced at their natural point of birth, rather than the more common way of starting at a dialect leaf today and tracing the way back up the ancestral tree, sprinkling the narration with confusing facts about other sidelines.

    Other highlights include:
  • a list of the 60 user commands in the First Edition of Unix (before even pipes and a C-compiler was added). Some of them are just arcane oddities, but surprisingly many I use regularly today, thirty years later!
  • a very nice, if a bit dated an incomplete, "Who's Who and What's What" section, which in itself is enough for me to want an own copy of the book.
  • an actual photo of the dog Biff, who the first new mail notifier was named after (as well as the claimed true story of how it came to be).
  • various anecdotes, pranks, jokes, and lots of lore.

This is not a book that offers some extra information on a course. I am not even sure if it gives some better understanding of the topic, like "Where Wizards Stay Up Late" does. This is more a book for pleasure reading if you happen to have an interest in the history of Unix.

It was released in -94, so it does not cover the latest years upspring of Unix, especially the proliferation of Linux. Still, it is no great loss, since the emphasis lies at the origin of Unix - a topic which it covers with excellence, unmatched by any other book I have seen.

Salus, Peter H. Casting the Net Biographical 1995
Just like in his "A Quarter-Century of Unix", Salus manages to make an excellent historical overview, this time about the Internet from the birth of the ARPANET in 1968 to the state of the net as the book was written in 1995. Thus the last six crucial years are missing. However, this is no disadvantage of this book. Regardless of what overwhelming proliferation the net has achieved since the book was published, the history it describes still stands and is more interesting than ever (at least to me).

Since I liked Hafner and Lyon's "Where Wizards Stay Up Late" very much and since that book is about the history of the net too, I initially had some doubts about "Casting the Net", and, yes, Hafner and Lyon actually makes a better in depth investigation of Internet's development than Salus does. However, Salus presents his material in a much more accessible way and from several more interesting angles.

Both books interviews the same key people, but Salus makes a better job of following up where persons, features and companies are today. I especially enjoyed the narration of the eventful lifespan of net news (Usenet) and that selling access to mail and news gave birth to UUNET which later diversified and today is one of the main Internet backbone providers in the world.

Salus' book are filled with interesting tidbits that make you go "Wow, I was not aware of that and that!". Also, he has included a lot of "diversions" for fun, like net poetry by Vinton Cerf and other net inventors, and some hilarious RFCs (among them an old favorite of mine; RFC 1149 "IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers").

Shasha, Dennis & Lazere, Cathy Out of Theirs Minds: The Lives and Discoveries of 15 Great Computer Scientist Biographical 1998
Dijkstra! Knuth! Backus! This is a remarkable book. It lists fifteen of the great Computer Scientist and tells us about their lives, what have made them famous, and what made them pursue a computing career. The book also gives some facts about the different discoveries, often held at a very introductory level (but for us more demanding readers, there are always the references in the back to more detailed books and paper on each subject).

Shimomura, Tsutomu Takedown Fiction/Biographical 1996
The composition, as well as the language itself and the format of the text, are somewhat lame in this book. To put it bluntly: most other books are better than this (most other books are also written by professional writers - this is not). However, to people with hands-on experience of workstations, Internet, the scores of width-spread software packages, and the well-known companies of the business, the book actually offers entertainment since it is packed full of short titbits of background facts of elements of daily computing. Although all these facts are better and more in-depth described elsewhere, the brief mentionings in this book are more easily accessed. By just reading the story of how Tsutomu Shimomura, after suffering an intrusion in his own network, hunted down the responsible cracker Kevin Mitnick, you happen to find out lots of things you did not know before. If you are into computer security and networking, you will like this books (actually, it also contains a little parallel computing, if you happen to be desperate for some of that). The contents of the story is similar to those of Clifford Stolls "The Cuckoos Egg," but, unfortunately, it is told with far less wit and humour as the latter.

Stephenson, Neal Snow Crash Science Fiction 1992
I approached this novel, expecting something cyberpunkish as my good friend Bågfors had led me to believe (it was he who tipped me of Neil Stephenson), and - yes - Stephenson is known as the third great cyberpunk author, along with William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, and "Snow Crash" contains all necessary ingredients of cyberpunk; futuristic, "cool" technology, a vivid, computer-generated, alternate reality (known as "the Metaverse," rather than Cyberspace), and a society that has broken down. Yet there is more - there are characters at least as detailed and knowable as Gibson's, and there is a feeling I seldom got before, a feeling that this piece of Sci-Fi is not as far into the future that we might think... All in all, a very nice book. It is quite a ride to share some of Stephenson's more odd ideas; Mafia controlled pizza deliveries ("Keep moving that 'za."), informational warfare through linguistic/religious/biological/digital viruses, etc. It is not everyday the birth of civilization in ancient Sumer gets reinterpreted in the light of our modern information society. Read it! ;-)

Stephenson, Neal The Diamond Age or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer Science Fiction 1995
As you can see further down in this list, this is the third piece by Neal Stephenson I have read. I expected that "The Diamond Age" would be of the same kind as the other, especially "Snow Crash", but it was not! It was much more refined and deep. I was most pleasantly surprised. Neal Stephenson is really a talented author that is not stuck in one, narrow style.

So, what makes "The Diamond Age" so good? Well, I appreciate it on several levels. First of all, the possible tomorrow Stephenson describes is one that I find quite possible and is a bit intrigued by. Second, his visions of where nano-technology will take humanity and how it will affect everyday life, is really startling. Last, but not least, the main character Nell is a pretty likeable young girl.

Often, authors of Cyberpunk and Science Fiction uses kind of a peephole technique to describe another, future world with only a few details. In "The Diamond Age", Neal Stephenson actually goes a bit further. As you progress through the novel, you get a clearer and clearer picture of how our today transformed into the tomorrow of "The Diamond Age" and how that tomorrow hangs together.

So, if you get hold of a copy of this novel, make yourself comfortable and read the fascinating story of the "primer", the fantastic interactive book made exclusively for the education of the young girl that reads it.

Stephenson, Neal In the Beginning... was the Command Line Biographical 1999
This is a subjective essay, were Stephenson shares his thought on the Operating System scene for home computers. Quite thoroughly, he describes the history of Operating Systems and what an OS really is. Then he gives his view on Microsoft/Windows, Apple, Linux and BeOS - both on the merits of each OS and on the strategy of the company/community behind them. As a whole, this essay is pretty harmless. I liked his Science Fiction novel "Snow Crash" a lot better (but it is rather fun to make out parallels between that novel and his opinions in the essay). The essay is pretty American and is also meant for the common, non-professional computer user. Still, it has its moments. I especially like the power drill analogy he uses to compare MS-Dos/Windows with UNIX.

Stephenson, Neal Cryptonomicon Fiction 1999
Wow! At the times I read Stephenson's cyberpunk/science fiction novels "Snow Crash" and "The Diamond Age", I found them fun and enjoyable. I also appreciated how much Stephenson's authorship evolved from the earlier to the latter. Now he has done it again - evolved as an author and managed to write another novel that just out-does the previous in language, completeness, the crafts of the plot and so on. Whatever it is that makes Stephenson strain himself harder for every new novel, I can only hope that he keeps it up, because I really look forward to more future masterpieces.

What about "Cryptonomicon" then? Well, first of all, it does not take place in a possible future. Instead, it divides its chapters between the second world war and the present, describing a flow of events that brings an odd collection of people together during the war, and then let their grand-children's paths cross in the present.

Stephenson weaves in a lot of physics, cryptography and computer science in the story, but he does it so subtle that he in no way hinders non-academians from enjoying the book - but if you have some notion of science, you only feel more at home.

It is actually great reading for computer geeks - not only because of the computer stuff but because the main character is a likeable computer geek who is easy to identify with. Anyone should enjoy this novel though, it is also ripe with war history and corporate economics (the main characters forms a new company to cash in on an idea of theirs).

The story is fiction, yet Stephenson actually introduces real people like Winston Churchill and General MacArthur. Alan Turing, one of the fathers of modern computer science, plays an important rôle (I have to get hold of Andrew Hodges biography on Alan Turing, "Alan Turing: the Enigma", to see how much Stephenson made up and how much was genuine).

Anyway, "Cryptonomicon" is a great story that I encourage you to read. I have two question though. Why call Linux "Finux"? I would have thought that the name of a free operating system like Linux would be free to use too. And the Swedish town "Norrsbruck" - where is that? I am born in Sweden and have lived here all my life and I have never heard of it. It does not even sound Swedish ("Norrbruk" would). Since it seems like Stephenson gone trough lots of trouble to research the rest of the novel, it is kind of odd that he could not find a better name for a Swedish town. ;-)

Sterling, Bruce The Hacker Crackdown Biographical 1992
The Science Fiction writer Bruce Sterling thoroughly investigates the area of computer crime. He begins with a historical perspective, were he states that crackers are as old as the telephone and continues by describing both the culprits and the authorities views on the issue. Not surprisingly, the computer hooligans consider themselves pretty innocent, while the authorities put together specially trained units to counter computer crime - units with just too little resources... Somewhat interesting, but not the most enjoyable book I ever came across.

Stoll, Clifford The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy through the Maze of Computer Espionage (En hacker i systemet) Fiction/Biographical 1989
This is Cliff Stoll's own, fascinating tale of how he, by chance, notices a difference of 75 cents between his departments modem bills and actual modem usage. He starts to investigate the cause, which then leads to an year-long tracking of a German cracker trough the loops of the Internet. This book is quite natural in its description of how the people, and especially the "computer nerds," live their lifes at Berkeley at the time. You can hardly put this book down, once you have started to read it. There is a Swedish translation, but, unfortunately, the translator is much more skilled in Swedish than in computing. Read it in English if you have the opportunity.

Stoll, Clifford Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway Manifesto 1995
In this book Cliff Stoll shares his own thoughts and views on the Internet. He has lost some of his earlier optimism regarding the net and strongly distrusts the great hype which tries to sell the net to each and everyone. He believes that Internet is useful for a lot of good things, but that it should not be employed as the general media for all aspects of interactions between humans. Even if I in many areas agree with Stoll, I consider his other book, "The Cuckoo's Egg," to be a lot more enjoyable.

Stork, David (editor) HAL's Legacy: 2001's Computer as Dream and Reality Biographical 1997
In the late sixties, the well-known movie-maker Stanley Kubrick and the famous science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke teamed up and wrote the script for the now classic movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" (or rather, they discussed their ideas together and then Clarke wrote the book, which the movie-script was based upon, although film and novel developed in parallel). Kubrick and Clarke wanted to make a movie that would last and not get outdated by the progress of technology, a seemingly impossible task. Yet they did pretty good, even as they failed to see the coming of the PC:s and PDA:s, the Internet and the general power of graphical interfaces. Also, they were overly optimistic on the state of artificial intelligence by 2001. It is that this book is about.

The book consists of sixteen chapters - two are transcript of interviews with computer scientist, the other original work by Stork and other front-line AI-researchers. They all give their opinion on Hal, the computer that stars in "2001: A Space Odyssey", from the perspective of their own field of expertise. Thus, we get to know what is already done and what have proven difficult in making a computer system of Hal's capacity, and how far science has developed in respective field: chess playing, lip-reading/ speech recognition, face recognition, cognitive science, artificial intelligence in general, and so on.

As I am writing this, I have started rereading "2001: A Space Odyssey" and plan to rent the video when finished. It was many years since I read/saw it last time, and it seems quite appropriate to revisit it this year. "Hal's Legacy" will make me appreciate the book/film in a whole new way, since it offers a lot of "behind the scene"-tidbits. It was also a great survey of the current state of cognitive science and a motivation to why we bother with computers at all. It also offers a lot of interesting facts about our human selves, as is it ultimately ourselves we aim to mimic within the fields of artificial intelligence. For example, did you know that you rarely blink in the middle of a word but rather in between them? Something we probably use unconsciously when looking someone we talk to in the face, and something great to exploit by a computerized combined audio-video speech-reading system. ;-)

Thygeson, Gordon Apple T-Shirts: A Yearbook of History at Apple Computer Biographical 1997
According to this book, Apple has over the years produced between three and four thousand t-shirts. At Apple, every little project, event or work-group have their own t-shirt. The book includes pictures of the designs of over a thousand of these printed or embroided t-shirts, shirts, sweaters and jackets. It is really great as source of inspiration if you are thinking of producing your own design. However, the best part is the small stories and anecdotes about the projects associated with each design. For instance, there is the story of how the Apple II team, when Apple was shifting it's focus from the Apple II to the Macintosh, chose the codename Cortland for their effort to give the Apple II a graphical interface too. As described in the "Sunset Western Garden Book", Cortland is a variety of apple found in cold-winter climates. It is "related to 'McIntosh' but lacking its quality."

Turkle, Sherry Life on the Screen (leva.online) Biographical 1995
This is quite heavy reading. After all, it is a researcher who has written it, and it shows (for instance, about one seventh of the book is notes). It took a while to get into, and even then it happened that I lost track when there were too much psychological references (I did better with the philosophical ones and, of course, with all the computer science stuff). So, what is this book about? It focuses on the human side of Human-Computer Interaction and Computer Mediated Communication (by email, IRC, web-chats, MUDs and such). It addresses important and interesting questions like how ones own personality is affected if one on the net puts on another personality, or even another gender, and how ordinary people reacts to the question of artificial life - whether it is actually possible or not. Turkle shows that exploring and developing ones personality at the Internet can be both good and bad. Some people eases personal pains and overcome difficulties by experimenting with what they want to become, while others grew envious of the digital alter egos and are left feeling stuck in their real lifes. Very thought-provoking stuff! What I liked best, though, is that Turkle takes MUD and IRC dead seriously.

Waldrop, Mitchell Complexity Biographical 1992
Williams, Tad Otherland: City of Golden Shadow Science Fiction 1996
Wow. I say wow... This was something really special. This was really my cup of tea. Where should I begin? Well, this is what I would call "light science fiction". It takes place in the middle of this century and describes a future that is not that impossible nor unlikely. That is one thing that makes me like it. Especially since it centres around the global communication network - the Internet - of that time, and the advanced virtual reality equipment that makes trips on the net very realistic indeed. Tad Williams does not describe only one form of VR equipment. Instead, he introduces a whole range of them - from cheap home entertainment ones, over outdated military system, to the state of the art ones that you connect direct to your neurocanal, projecting the simulations directly onto the brain via the nerves.

One obvious question comes to mind: will this book only entertain people familiar with the Internet and its possibilities? People like me and my fellow computer scientists? It is hard to say. "Otherland" has got a lot of qualities, but it is so very centered around the network. Or perhaps I am fooling myself? Maybe people in general will consider it a fascinating science fiction novel and like it as a good book, while Internet addicts like me will take it to their hearts and elevate it as a forecast of what the future will bring...

Although this is the first volume in a series of at least four, it is a quite voluminous tome of over nine hundred pages (the complete "Lord of the Ring" is only some hundred pages more). Surprisingly enough, the novel does not get stuck or feel slow more than thinner books. I would say that Tad Williams has succeeded very well with this one. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into volume two...

Williams, Tad Otherland II: River of Blue Light Science Fiction 1998
I am not ignorant of the fact that Williams paints a dark picture of to what ends the rich and corrupted might use the new virtual reality technology. Still, it is a classic story of the struggle between good and evil, and I suspect that good will win in the end, a few volumes away. I can appreciate the ethical question Williams not only raises but dramatizes, but I am still very positive and quite eager to be able to experience myself the cool stuff Williams predicts. I believe that such advanced technologies that Williams suggests are, as so much else, useful for both good and bad, and that we should not sacrifice the good out of fear for the bad.

Sober criticism of the Otherland-series:

  • Too long. Each volume is in the range of 700 - 1000 pages and the series consists of at least four volumes. But actually they rarely tend to get slow and being so long, the good reading experience only lasts longer. ;-)
  • Too typical for the late twentieth century. Otherland is not timeless literature. The style is a bit dynamic (like when some chapters are vocal journal entries by Martine Desroubins) and influenced by the movies - very typical for the last fifty years or so. Compared with the style of timeless classics like Alexandre Dumas "The Three Musketeers", it feels a bit light. Still, it is a child of it times and really should not be held in contempt for that. If Otherland had been written by Jules Verne, I would probably not have liked it as much.
  • Almost too imaginative. It is really an orgy in imagination, a fantasy extravaganza. In volume two, we visit the ice age, Coleridge's Xanadu, a "War of the Worlds"-torn London, a world were humans are microscopic and insects gigantic, a world were humans can fly, a Kansas taken over by the land of Oz, etc, etc. Sometimes I think Williams thought of the possibilities of modern computers and virtual reality, just to be able to create and write about all the worlds he wanted. The craziest thing is, in this setting, he actually gets away with it. ;-)

Well, what can I say? Great book! ;-)

Williams, Tad Otherland III: Mountain of Black Glass Science Fiction 1999
The third volume left me quite exhausted, but desperate for more - the latter somewhat of a problem as volume four is only planned to be released this March... How did it leave me exhausted? Was it too long and winding? NO! It was just so breath-taking thrilling and while it had a climax that Williams worked up to, it still had a rather high level of excitement throughout the almost thousand pages.

How come? Well, Williams' enlists quite a few main characters in the Otherland series; both old and young, good and evil, male and female, healthy and sick or even crippled, etc, etc. This, of course, makes it possible for almost anyone to read the book, find a personal favorite, and just have to read a bit further to see what happens to that particular favorite. Since the characters are scattered around both the real world and the virtual Otherland, the books visit them in sequence - part of a chapter looks in on Orlando and Fredericks, next ten pages on !Xabbu and Reine, the next chapter gives away the villain Dread's next vicious move, and so on. However, in this third volume, each group or single character are met by challenges that increases the pulse of the reader, and again and again, Williams leaves one set of characters in media res, to pay a visit to the next set, creating numerous small but distinct cliff-hangers. That is why volume three left me quite exhausted. Satisfied and eager for the next volume, but exhausted.

The Otherland series has been mysterious from the first volume, and although the third volume have answered some question and - at last - given away a little of the underlying plot, the big question remains unanswered to the fourth and last volume. How on earth am I supposed to wait until March to read on? What if Otherland IV is delayed? Will it keep up the quality of the first three? Only time will tell...

Williams, Tad Otherland IV: Mountain of Black Glass Science Fiction 2001
Williams' novels about Otherland have sailed right up among my favourite books and greatest reading experiences. Not because of some strong recognition of the character's personalities or experiences, nor any extra-ordinary ability to identify myself with any of them. Neither would I say that it is because Williams writes better than most other authors (he does not). Alas, this will probably never be considered as a great classical piece of literature - mostly because of the rather narrow subject: an epic quest cast on the background of the next generation of information technology... But here lies the key to my instant fondness of Otherland. Many of the elements Williams has imagined I really hope will come true in a near future (well, not any of the evil stuff, of course). This is the one chance Otherland has to become a true classic: if it will prove to be an accurate prediction of the future.

"Otherland IV" is actually not as intense as "Otherland III", which is just one cliff-hanger after another, but "Otherland IV" is at least as thrilling, because now, after the three earlier tomes, we finally get the answers to all the riddles, and I can assure you that some of the answers we could not have dreamt of in our wildest dreams. I mean, for a brief moment I was afraid that Williams would turn the end into something catastrophically lame, but half a chapter later I was ashamed I ever doubted him...

Pay close attention when reading the Otherland novels, because some seemingly insignificant things actually forms a very subtle sub-plot - a story within the story that perhaps would not be noticed if it was removed, but which gives "Otherland IV" its most philosophical air...

Wolley, Benjamin Virtual Worlds Biographical 1992

Titles to appear (as soon as I have got hold of a copy and read it):


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