Geeks are famous for their fiction. There is a lot of talk amongst CS departments (and sometimes corporations) of a culture the programmers share: Dilbert, Office Space, Monty Python, etc. There is also a long (by the standards of computer science) and rich tradition of geek literature. I’ve compiled a short list of fiction that I found both enlightening and enjoyable. If this is recieved well I may do one for non-fiction.
Anyway in no particular order.
Little Brother and Homeland - Cory Doctorow
Two books by Cory Doctorow about a young man named Marcus Yallow, who accidentally gets suspected of a terrorist attack. He’s threaten, tortured and ultimate bests some baddies of the scariest NSA type. These two books are all about how scary unchecked government can be and the importance of human rights.
Diamond Age - Neal Stephenson
This books involves the life of an increadibly poor little girl named Nell. Her brother gives her a electronic primer with some serious AI that was intended for a rich man. The primer gives her a shot at a better life. This books takes place in a future where nano-technology has taken hold, although the structure of society hasn’t changed too much. There are still poor people and societal heiarchies.
Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson
This books is about a ww2 mathematician and a ninties tech start-up with a cofounder related to the crypto-wizzard from ww2. This books really does a great job at spelling out the pervasive nature of good crypto in a society. Written around the time of the clipper chip debacle, it does a great job of spelling out the technology.
For the win - Cory Doctorow
This books is about a rich boy in America and too different groups of laborers in China and India. It does a great job of spelling out the economics and gold farming and bringing the labor rights debate into the 21st century. This books is possibly more about economics than tech but its a great read about something that actually happens in the world.
Eastern Standard Tribe - Cory Doctorow
This books is about mobile phones and online communities. People in this novel use their phones to join ‘tribes’ and radically alter their sleep cycles to stay awake at the same times. There is a heavy stigma about tribes so most memeber keep it secret. They work togeather to help each other get ahead in life and pool resources. It’s like a mix between an afk clan, a corporation/coop, and a government. Really great take on how online communities effect the world.
The Rapture of the nerds - Corry Doctorow/Charles Stross
No this isn’t Revenge of the nerds. This is a novella with two story arcs about the adventures of an originally technophobic man that gets appointed to a court approving technology. He goes on a an amazing adventure that spans themes like technology aided gender swapping and technology aided immortality. The second story arc specifically is about eternal life through technology and the theoretical posibilities.
The Last Question - Issac Assimov
There is a google addage to think 10x big instead of 10%. This Assimov short-story is the equivalent of a googleplex fold big. He asks the really big question: “How do we reduce entropy so we’ll have usable energy forever?”. In this increadibly visionary 15 minute read. Assimov views humanity at several diffent stages of technological development until the heat-death of the universe. His last prediction where mankind is unified is increadibly surreal. Its definitely worth a read.
There are some great books that I didn’t include. For instance, All Tomorrows Parties, which spells out nanotechnology too, or Neuromancer which speaks for itself. I tried to include stories that were both enjoyable and would illustrate the uses/possiblities of technology. I feel bad about not including any William Gibson, but his work is definitely more about societal weirdness than illustrating technology. The two are really related, but it’s difficult to pick out an over-arching theme from those works. I also wish the least was more diverse author-wise. I haven’t read much Arthur C. Clarke or much beyond some well known authors in the scene: William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow. I may do another one of these when I’ve read from more authors instead of alot from only a few authors.
These books are mostly pretty easy to find used. If you have an ereader, For the win, Little Brother, Rapture of the nerds, and Eastern Standard Tribe are all creative commons and an epub of Homeland is availble on Cory Doctorows Noise Trade.