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[P]
Cheap Complex Devices: A computer, a madman, and a swarm of bees

By rusty in Media
Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 08:08:07 AM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)
Books

There once was a madman who dreamed that he was sane and it was the rest of the world that was mad. From that day on he was never certain if he was mad, or if he was a swarm of bees, or if he was a Shaker village, or if he was a court deposition in defense of Ted Kaczynski, or if he was a fictional character in a novel written by a computer. Or if there was really any difference between these things.

To put it another way: "Read This Manuscript, It Is By a Madman Who Thinks He Is a Computer Program."


John Sundman's long-awaited second novel, Cheap Complex Devices is finally finished. It is astonishing, on just about every level a book can be astonishing. In one sense, it is a full 180 degree reversal from his first book Acts of the Apostles which was, on the face of it, a fairly straightforward techno-thriller in the Michael Crichton mold. In another sense, however, CCD is the exact same story as Acts. You may already be able to tell that it is a hard book to review -- I'll make an attempt first to simply describe the book itself.

Cheap Complex Devices is composed of four (or possibly five) parts, at least one of which is actually missing. The Foreword tells the story of the book's genesis according to nominal editor John Compton Sundman, of Stanhope Island, Maine. He recounts how he became involved in a prototypical game of nerd one-upmanship at a meeting of the Special Interest Group for Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI). Two research groups, both working on "Human-Language Storytellers" (or "Hals", which are software programs that write stories) meet over dinner one night, and eventually get into an argument about whose Hal is better.

The rivalry between the two competing research groups leads them to propose a contest, the first ever Hofstadter Prize for Machine-Written Narrative, to determine whose storytelling program is the best. Mr Sundman, as a neutral party and a technical writer by trade, is asked to edit the final collection of works, and arrange for a small private publication of the winners.

It eventually transpires that there are only two finalists, so it is decided that both will be published. Mr. Sundman collects and edits the two stories, but thinks that they deserve more than a small private printing for distribution to the contestants. He has in his possession, after all, the first known evidence that a computer can tell a story; something which it was previously thought only a human could do properly.

And here the trouble starts. He loses one manuscript, that of "The Bonehead Computer Museum," which later turns up as a book published by someone else, who he claims has stolen his identity, and which is pretty clearly John F.X. Sundman's first book Acts of the Apostles. John Compton Sundman (editor of CCD and our present narrator) bemoans the minor but uniformly harmful changes made to "Bonehead" to turn it into Acts, and also the blatant and shameless theft of his identity by the supposed author, who he claims is actually a retired police officer.

What remains of the collection, then, is the "Notes on the Source Code" written by members of the Hofstadter Prize committee, and the second of the two winners, a shorter novella called "Bees, or The Floating Point Error". John C. Sundman has decided to publish these alone, and let "Bonehead" (or Acts) fall by the wayside, as it is by now hopelessly tangled up in a legal mire.

The "Notes on the source code", written collectively by the remaining members of the Hofstadter Prize Committee, go on to cast further doubt on the provenance and meaning of both "Bonehead" and "Bees." They highlight several very strange parallels between the two works, including the fact that each novel seems to be aware of the other's existence, and each goes well out of its way to cast doubt upon the reliability or veracity of the other (despite both being supposedly fictional in the first place). Several other strange occurrences are described, which may or may not be coincidence. And finally the Bremser Spam is presented, which could perhaps be counted as a section of CCD of its own, or at least another version of the story that both Acts and "Bees" seem to be attempting to tell.

You can read both the Foreword and the Notes on the Source Code online for yourself, so I won't belabor the point. But by the time "Bees" begins, the book has already gone to some lengths to cast the reader adrift and chop off all of your normal assumptions at the knees. Books are written by humans, right? Well, maybe this is all the product of John F.X. Sundman's imagination, and he's just messing with us. Or maybe it isn't. Books have a beginning, a middle, and an end, right? Well this one has at least three beginnings, middles scattered liberally throughout, and all of the ends are provisional at best. I was also left with a distinct feeling that some of the ends were actually beginnings in disguise (and vice versa). Not to mention that it explicitly informs us that a good half or so of the book is not included, and can only be read in a form which may or may not be corrupted beyond recognition.

But what on Earth is the point of all this tomfoolery? After all, we've had this kind of postmodern trickery for decades now. Books that deny their own existence, books that refer to other books, attempts by an author to cast doubt on his own existence, or his authorship of the book you're reading, and so forth. None of this is new. The reason all of it works here is because it all serves a purpose. Acts was a straightforward thriller, albeit one that turned the normal hero/villain conventions of the genre upside down, by making technology itself the villain. CCD has largely the same point to make, but makes it from the opposite direction. The levels of confusion build up and multiply until you yourself don't know what to believe. The effect is strengthened by the inclusion of several stories that have such clarity of detail and force of reality that you suspect they are the literal truth -- that they actually happened -- even though they are told in the service of a tale that cannot (you try to convince yourself) be true.

Rather than tell you the story of technology run amok, as Acts does, CCD runs amok itself, and takes you along for the ride. It is, taken altogether, a piece of writing that in lesser hands would almost certainly have crashed and burned in the most abject depths of pointless self-indulgence. But Sundman somehow walks the razor's edge perfectly and pulls it off. By the end, I wanted to clap at the sheer breathtaking feat of narrative I had just experienced.

As all reviews must, this one barely skims the surface of Cheap Complex Devices. The book itself is a very complex device, and would take a lot more words than this to really unwrap and analyze. I suspect that the end result of such an effort would be similar the results of Ray Kurzweil's "onion peeling" metaphor for the search for the location of human consciousness. Each layer you peel off, you still have a whole onion, albeit a slightly smaller one. And at the end, you have a lot of onion peels, and no onion at all.

Or, to put it another way, if you read one book in the waning days of biological humanity's monopoly on Earthbound intelligence, better make it this one.

Cheap Complex Devices can be pre-ordered from John Sundman's website for $11.00. Ordering will get you a signed copy as soon as the book is printed (before October 1st 2002), and an immediate download in PDF or eBook form.

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Related Links
o John Sundman's
o Acts of the Apostles
o Foreword
o Notes on the Source Code
o Cheap Complex Devices
o Also by rusty


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Cheap Complex Devices: A computer, a madman, and a swarm of bees | 97 comments (61 topical, 36 editorial, 0 hidden)
Hey (1.85 / 14) (#1)
by psychologist on Mon Jul 29, 2002 at 05:19:26 PM EST

I don't want to butt in here, but I would like people to know that there are suspicions in place that Rusty is in fact johnny. Or rather, Johnny is a pseudonym for Rusty. Many people use "john" as a pseudo name, including myself.

Here are my previous suspicions, posted before this interesting review.

Maybe (4.00 / 7) (#2)
by rusty on Mon Jul 29, 2002 at 05:26:29 PM EST

Ontological uncertainty is a hallmark of our age, is it not? Perhaps this review was in fact cobbled together by a computer program I wrote that was fed the complete texts of Acts, CCD, The Age of Spiritual Machines, and Anti-Oedipus. That would at least explain the stilted prose and failure to really dig more than superficially into the text.

It is a fact that Mr. Sundman and I have never met in person (and consequently have never been seen in the same room) and both claim to live on islands (in either Massachusetts or Maine). Further, the one time we were "supposed" to meet, in Boston, we managed to both arrive at totally different times, unwitnessed by any single person.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Or maybe (5.00 / 1) (#11)
by ageing hippie on Mon Jul 29, 2002 at 05:41:21 PM EST

its a dream of a new reality caused by counting to many electric sheep
------------------------
Fool me once shame on you, Fool me twice shame on me
[ Parent ]
I still find your interest in johnny disturbing (3.00 / 3) (#13)
by psychologist on Mon Jul 29, 2002 at 05:42:20 PM EST

My photographic memory recalls at least 3 occasions where you have, in a comment or a diary mentioned johnny and/or his books. Seeing that you are aware of your excessive influence on the users of this site (the mantle of power on a person, be that mantle democratic or violently seized, always seems to increase the wisdom of the person's speech), you would only recommend his works if you had a vested interest. I briefly thought about this a while ago, and decided that

i) You were long-time friends with him in real life. Your comment appears to indicate otherwise
ii) You were him. My working assumption, simply because it is the most drastic choice, and thus the safest to work with
iii) You where simply a great fan of his work, and felt he deserved a chance.

No 3 is the version you would like us believe (though you have not stated so explicitly yet), and so is immediately suspect. Also, the proportion seems wrong - why so many attempts to influence johnnies fate? Why have I not come across any gratitude expressed by him towards you? (I admit though, that I don't read his diaries). You have also been quite busy lately.

I haven't actually examined his diary to see if a comparism between your writing and his comes out favourable, or if there are any other indications to support my claim, but I am sure if I did I would reach a conclusion either way.

Something is in the air, and I am trying to find out what it is. Maybe I have something here, maybe I don't.

[ Parent ]

Welly well (5.00 / 5) (#24)
by rusty on Mon Jul 29, 2002 at 05:59:01 PM EST

The version I would claim is the truth is that slightly more than a year ago, John emailed me asking if I would like a free review copy of his first book, Acts. I told him I would be glad to give it a read, but that accepting a free copy would make me feel like I had to review it, and I didn't want to promise anything. So I bought a copy, and was so impressed that I reviewed it anyway.

Since then, John has become a fairly well-known and widely loved diarist here, and he and I have kept up an intermittent email correspondence. I am of the opinion that he is a very, very good writer, and he ought to be rolling in such piles of money that he can afford to hire Tom Clancy to wipe his ass with original manuscript pages from "Patriot Games".

I have no personal interest in his success, other than my general interest in seeing excellent writers get more recognition and readership. He doesn't owe me any money, nor do I have any financial stake in his career or the success of his books. In the interests of full disclosure, I do consider him a friend, so if you think that colors my review, be aware of it. I don't think it does, and I do continue to maintain that if John doesn't get the recognition he deserves in his lifetime, he is at least destined to be one of those "died penniless" authors who is widely hailed posthumously as a craftsman of the first order. It will be a shame if that has to be the case.

But of course, if I were him, or if we were both someone else entirely (incidentally, who are you?), that's exactly the kind of plausible story you'd expect to hear, isn't it?

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

that's some crazy implication. (5.00 / 1) (#61)
by Shren on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 12:55:33 PM EST

First half of statement

Seeing that you are aware of your excessive influence on the users of this site (the mantle of power on a person, be that mantle democratic or violently seized, always seems to increase the wisdom of the person's speech),

Second half of statement

you would only recommend his works if you had a vested interest.

Plugging those two sentence parts together is a reckless use of a comma. They don't seem to have anything to do with each other. The first involves what rusty knows, and the second has to do with his motives, and neither implies the other. Might I interest you in this fine (.)? Only $14.99.

[ Parent ]

Honey, I can explain (3.50 / 2) (#70)
by psychologist on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 03:18:53 PM EST

Obviously, you are of the weakbrained variety of human being, and cannot make simple logical connectiosn by yourself. OK, take my hand, let me guide you.

First of all, the text in the brackets can be dropped, since it is a side-note, so we have

_Seeing that you are aware of your excessive influence on the users of this site, you would only recommend his works if you had a vested interest. _

Rusty know he has got excessive influence on the readers of this site, so would usually not try to misuse this influence. However, he does, so it implies that he might have a vested interest in the publication of the book, and which he especially (mis)used his influence for.

Get it?

[ Parent ]

Hmm... (none / 0) (#96)
by sully on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 06:11:24 PM EST

What way is there to misuse his excessive influence on readers other than by promoting his own interests? The thing that he "usually" does not do, since he obviously has no reservations about promoting his interests and what not?


-------------
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of my prefrontal cortex.
[ Parent ]
Ah ha! (5.00 / 1) (#62)
by nowan on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 01:06:11 PM EST

Psychologist is Rusty and Johnny!

I get it now.

[ Parent ]

You got us (4.00 / 3) (#71)
by psychologist on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 03:19:57 PM EST

Actually, you are the only user on K5. All the rest are rusty, pretending his lonely weblog is actually visited by anybody.

[ Parent ]
Great scheme (none / 0) (#95)
by br284 on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 03:20:57 PM EST

I wonder if someone's done it well on a large scale. I can't even imagine the time that would be required to put in.

-Chris

[ Parent ]

Certainly not (5.00 / 3) (#23)
by panner on Mon Jul 29, 2002 at 05:48:47 PM EST

Perhaps this review was in fact cobbled together by a computer program I wrote ...

Haha. Heh. You? Ha. I find this highly... hehe... sorry, sorry... anyway. Hahaha. I find this... heh... unlikely. You! That's great. I think I'll make that my sig or something. Oh, it hurts to laugh this much.

;)



--
Keith Smiley
Get it right, for God's sake. Pigs can work out how to use a joysti
[ Parent ]
hey, rusty! (5.00 / 2) (#60)
by Shren on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 12:50:36 PM EST

This statement is true if the following statement is true. This statement is false if the preceeding statement is false.

There. If rusty's a computer, he's crashed now.

[ Parent ]

I've met them both... (5.00 / 2) (#38)
by ragabr on Mon Jul 29, 2002 at 08:43:16 PM EST

Rusty when he came to Boston for his OSDN meeting. I bought a book from Johnny and got him to sign it at his booth at the 2001 Usenix conference.

-------
And my tongue would be made of chocolate. Mmmmm. Chocolate.
-rusty
[ Parent ]
So what you're saying... (5.00 / 2) (#56)
by mcherm on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 09:56:29 AM EST

So what you're saying is that you can confirm psychologist's suspicions? They really ARE the same?

-- Michael Chermside
[ Parent ]
that doesn't explain anything. (5.00 / 1) (#59)
by Shren on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 12:46:35 PM EST

I think you are rusty, too. Or George Bush. One of the two.

[ Parent ]
Duh (5.00 / 1) (#66)
by Scrymarch on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 01:42:58 PM EST

Rusty is George Bush.  He's also Madelaine Albright.

[ Parent ]
But I thought... (none / 0) (#73)
by Shren on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 03:50:48 PM EST

I thought Madelaine Albright was Psychologist.

[ Parent ]
Only on weekends (none / 0) (#76)
by Scrymarch on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 04:35:45 PM EST

But I didn't want to get into that.  It's complicated.

[ Parent ]
but have you ever seen them together? (5.00 / 2) (#65)
by ethereal on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 01:36:07 PM EST

I thought not. Exactly.

--

Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

I'm Johnny, and so's my wife (5.00 / 2) (#52)
by salsaman on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 05:17:31 AM EST

n/t

[ Parent ]
My suspicions (none / 0) (#90)
by cyberdruid on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 05:33:28 AM EST

I alway suspected that you, medham, thelizman and perhaps eLuddite were the same person, trying to prove some point about the senselessness of having strong political views in our chaotic society.

[ Parent ]
I never bought Acts (4.66 / 3) (#5)
by imrdkl on Mon Jul 29, 2002 at 05:32:47 PM EST

although I read the freebie chapters with interest, because it wasn't clear to me whether he could (or would) ship overseas. I hope the ordering system is a bit smarter and friendlier now. What about a special price on both books, that's what I'd like to see. Anyways, a tasteful, if slightly bubbly review. +1

Overseas shipping (5.00 / 2) (#31)
by johnny on Mon Jul 29, 2002 at 06:17:18 PM EST

I do it when anybody asks. Send an email to me at wetmachine. My ordering system is a kludge; I admit it. But dammit Jim, I'm a novelist, not an e-business tycoon.

yr frn,
jrs
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.
[ Parent ]
Given the diversity of this site (5.00 / 1) (#35)
by imrdkl on Mon Jul 29, 2002 at 06:33:40 PM EST

I'd suggest shopping around for the best price, then make it clear that it's available to us. Regarding your order tools sucking, I understand you have to maintain appearances. :) Now, how about that two-for-one offer?

[ Parent ]
Postmodernism (5.00 / 2) (#25)
by d s oliver h on Mon Jul 29, 2002 at 06:04:49 PM EST

But what on Earth is the point of all this tomfoolery? After all, we've had this kind of postmodern trickery for decades now.

It is, taken altogether, a piece of writing that in lesser hands would almost certainly have crashed and burned in the most abject depths of pointless self-indulgence.
I like postmodern tomfoolery. I prefer this kind of writing to traditional narratives. Do you really take the viewpoint that to attempt to write anything in such a vein is generally risible or to be discouraged? What are all these wacky postmodern books you are referring to? They sound like my cup of tea.
I don't know why we all have to be so harsh about anything that might be considered self-indulgent by a writer. Are you trying to pre-empt this criticism, or do you really disapprove of experimentation on the basis that it is self-indulgent? I think writers should indulge themselves, lesser hands or no.

Pomo foolishness (5.00 / 3) (#29)
by rusty on Mon Jul 29, 2002 at 06:13:31 PM EST

What I was condemning was the use of postmodern "form manipulation" techniques when there's no point to them other than just to be oh-so-clever. Opinions about fiction are like... well, you know. That said, my opinion is that there are some times where pomo cleverness is apropos and adds a lot to a work, and some times where it is just a pain in the ass that makes me want to throw the book across the room and leave it there for the ants.

I don't know why we all have to be so harsh about anything that might be considered self-indulgent by a writer. Are you trying to pre-empt this criticism, or do you really disapprove of experimentation on the basis that it is self-indulgent? I think writers should indulge themselves, lesser hands or no.

There's a difference between experimentation and self-indulgence. Experimentation may work, or it may not, but either way it's often interesting to see what happens. Self-indulgence, by an author, is like masturbation, IMO. I'm sure everyone does it, but you ought to do it in private. Publishing your masturbation is just embarrassing for all of us.

Fortunately, the number of times I've really felt embarrassed to find myself reading some poor misguided author's literary wanking can probably be counted on one hand. No, not that hand. The other one.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Well, (5.00 / 1) (#33)
by d s oliver h on Mon Jul 29, 2002 at 06:31:47 PM EST

I suppose if a writer was just doing it as a pose it would be a bit reprehensible, but what I mean when I say writers should be allowed to indulge themselves is that if their natural tendency is towards non-conventional narratives they should not be condemned just for that, i.e. because we have all become cynical or snobbish. Books I find objectionable are poorly written ones, where the author seems to be unintelligent, or books that I find boring for whatever reason. I don't really object to intellectual conceits in themselves.

[ Parent ]
Isn't all writing self indulgent? (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by delmoi on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 12:53:41 AM EST

At the very least, indulging yourself in the fantasy that people might like what they read :P.

But more then that, I mean, writing is an art. It's possible to create bad art and it's possible to create good art. A writer might be bad at creating post-modern works, but I don't see how it's possible that writing without form is more self-indulgent then writing with form... And take Hemingway or Gibson or Shakespeare or anyone who changes the style to fit what they think of as beautiful arrangements of words, are they not self-indulgent?

And even on the level of the most boring hack, who's prose sounds like the conversation between the team member and the guest at a Target check-out lane, are those books not filled with fancy, with exotic women and sex and all that? Are they not self-indulgent in their exposition of the fantasy of the author?


--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
Not what I'm saying (5.00 / 1) (#44)
by rusty on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 01:30:07 AM EST

but I don't see how it's possible that writing without form is more self-indulgent then writing with form

First of all, I'm talking about one particular kind of form (or, rather, a particular set of narrative and formal tricks) as opposed to some other kind of form. There is no such thing as writing that's without form. And I'm not saying that my sense of "self-indulgence" is limited to (or even most commonly found in) postmodern writing. Just because I'm saying something about pomo lit styles doesn't have any particular bearing on any other style.

So, that said, what I'm trying to say is that sometimes, when some authors discover the kinds of tricks that have been pioneered by postmodern writers, that these formal and narrative tricks are deployed simply for their shock value, and end up fighting with the story itself for who gets to be in charge of the book. That is, I have read books (thankfully not too many) whose style and substance clashed like a Shaker rocking chair painted fuchsia with tartan plaid polka-dots. If you read it, and it makes you happy, well bully for you. I think it's crap. My point isn't to say the author can't do whatever floats her boat, but I won't feel at all bad about pointing out how badly the form mangles what could be a good story, and fights the real theme of the work all the way down into the depths of my trash barrel.

In other instances (notably in many of the works that made a name for postmodern lit, i.e. Crying of Lot 49 and such of that general ilk) postmodern tricks serve to bring the reader into a deeper understanding of what the thing ultimately is saying.

I think at heart, my feeling about self-indulgence comes from reading something that the author clearly didn't ever bother to think about, or to care about. Stories that are vehicles for pseudo-cleverness, not things that have been created and shaped to be the best whatever that they can be. The ones whose authors never said to themselves: "Will breaking the narrative flow to tell a side-tale about an imaginary Other Author trying to exactly rewrite the book that you're now reading really add depth or meaning to my tale of heartbreak amongst 17th century New England whaling wives? Does it do anything for the story, or does it just make me feel smart?" There's a definite sense, occasionally, that the author didn't respect his own work enough to just stop and think about it before rushing off to publish, and that just pisses me off. If you don't respect your work that much, I won't respect it at all.

That's self-indulgence. The author that's just writing to say "look at me, The Author!" Take Lovecraft. The man was a hack. His writing is (for the most part) bloody awful. Repetetive, cliche-ridden, predictable, repetitive, predictable, repetitive... But how much is it also loved? Hell, I love it. Even the worst of it. And it's entirely because of how much he loved it. It's just written that way -- those stories were the only thing that mattered, and it shows.

It has nothing to do with quality, or originality, or anything like that. It's just that when you're writing for the sake of showing how big your literary dick is, it always screams right through.

Incidentally, thank you for making me express this. I don't think I've ever thought of it in these exact terms before. It was always just a feeling. So, the above is a first draft, and may be subject to revision. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Have you ever read *the big U*? (5.00 / 1) (#47)
by delmoi on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 01:48:34 AM EST

Because there is like one paragraph in the whole thing that kind of makes fun of that kind of thing.

Anyway, I see what you are saying now. But perhaps you're being cynical. I mean, it's possible the author actually wanted to write a story about someone writing about whalers wives or something. I mean, that could be an interesting story... Like, why does the guy (the author) care about the topic? It sounds rather dull. Is he delusional? Is he obsessed with irony and thinks that people who hunted whales had some kind of Freudian issues, which subsequently made their wives sexual frustrated? I mean there's some potential there. Maybe.

Anyway, the point is, perhaps these people are just bad writers and victims of too much education to whom post-modernism only gives bigger and more powerful tools with which to fuck up their shit.
--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
Oh, shall the sea ever return me to my helpmate... (none / 0) (#49)
by rusty on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 01:59:00 AM EST

I mean, it's possible the author actually wanted to write a story about someone writing about whalers wives or something.

Sure, fine, that would be great. But the point was what if the author then went off into this fourth-wall-breaking tangent about something else altogether? I mean, alright, maybe you could make it work. But on the face of it, I very much doubt it. And when it doesn't work, it doesn't work bad.

Anyway, the point is, perhaps these people are just bad writers and victims of too much education to whom post-modernism only gives bigger and more powerful tools with which to fuck up their shit.

Again, postmodernism itself is neither here nor there. I could easily be having this same discussion about virtually any literary formal fad. Oh dear sweet baby jesus don't even get me started on Romanticism, for example. Pomo just happens to be the hip one to abuse at the moment. Bad writers will always find some way to be bad writers. It's a shame when publishers fail to notice though. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Good Postmodernism (5.00 / 1) (#55)
by wiredog on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 08:29:50 AM EST

Philip K. Dick

Can't sleep. The clowns will get me.
[ Parent ]
pomo (none / 0) (#91)
by gromgull on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 05:49:58 AM EST

For fans I can heartily recommend the modern word
--
If I had my way I'd have all of you shot

[ Parent ]
"Just Because You Can" doesn't mean you (none / 0) (#93)
by wnight on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 01:13:17 PM EST

Yeah, sometimes authors can ruin a well told story by the way they tell it. The "pomo cleverness" you speak of it one way, but really any use of literary device that the reader can spot as such seems out of place.

For instance, even plain old foreshadowing bugs me when it's heavy handed. For example,

"Goodbye Jane, Enjoy your midnight run in the park," he said, little knowing it was the last time he would ever see her.

In that sort of case it comes across as if the author says "Feel nervous - something will soon happen - but I'm not good enough to hint subtly and build tension."

I've only seen a few, very few, examples of where breaking the illusion has been used to further enjoyment of the story.

There are some examples which defy this, like M.C. Escher's pcitures, or _Godel, Escher, Bach_ by Hoffstader(?) but both of those are a lot more interactive than the norm for pictures/books and don't, imho, demonstrate traits appropriate for most works to copy.

[ Parent ]

I enjoy both traditional and nontraditional books (none / 0) (#58)
by Shren on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 12:45:02 PM EST

Traditional books are a lot of good old fashioned fun.

Nontraditional - whatever you call it - like postmodernism and whatever flag Infinite Jest waves are fun like track meets were fun when I ran track. Fun in a 'hit your head with a frying pan' fun, which isn't everybody's kind of fun.

[ Parent ]

Incidentally (5.00 / 1) (#63)
by rusty on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 01:20:05 PM EST

As I've discussed at great legth before, elsewhere, Infinite Jest is probably my favorite book ever. Another great example of postmodern confusion put to excellent use. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
I'm reading it now (5.00 / 1) (#64)
by Shren on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 01:30:56 PM EST

And at the rate I'm reading it, I'll probably be reading it this time next year, too. Although it did finally pick up a little bit around page 300 or so. 10 page footnotes are wrong on general principle.

[ Parent ]

Footnotes (none / 0) (#67)
by rusty on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 01:50:21 PM EST

My strategy was two bookmarks, I think. One for the footnotes page and one for the regular page. It's a pain, but they are the kind of footnotes that do need to be read.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
they need to be edited out with an axe. (none / 0) (#68)
by Shren on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 03:13:26 PM EST

I ripped an "intro by important idiot" out of a classic a few days ago. I'll graduate to footnotes soon.

[ Parent ]
Heh (none / 0) (#69)
by rusty on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 03:16:08 PM EST

I don't know. Some of the best parts of the book happen in the footnotes.

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Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
footnotes (5.00 / 1) (#72)
by Shren on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 03:49:28 PM EST

Well, I'll just read the footnotes. That'll speed things up quite a bit...

Things should not be happening in the footnotes. Plot should not be unrolling in the footnotes. Time should not be passing in the footnotes. Footnotes should bloody well say things like "See the Manchester printing of Kant's Prolgamana, page 212" or "I've discovered a marvelous proof of this fact which this footnote is too small to contain." They shouldn't have plot critical conversations or entire filmographies in them.

I swear one day I'm going to burn this book. Then it'll become a footnote on my reading history.

[ Parent ]

yay! (5.00 / 1) (#81)
by adequate nathan on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 11:46:01 PM EST

Infinite Jest rules! I can't believe anyone else finished it :)

Nathan
"For me -- ugghhh, arrgghh."
-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, in Frank magazine, Jan. 20th 2003

Join the petition: Rusty! Make dumped stories & discussion public!
[ Parent ]

Finished it!? (none / 0) (#83)
by rusty on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 11:49:48 PM EST

I've read it three times now. It just gets better.

Um, and that's supposed to be a compliment, even though it may just get better because after the first time you don't feel compelled to read the whole filmography. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

nuts to that (none / 0) (#97)
by adequate nathan on Sun Aug 04, 2002 at 05:42:28 PM EST

I /reread/ the filmography because it was so enjoyable. Only twice for the whole shebango for me though.

Nathan
"For me -- ugghhh, arrgghh."
-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, in Frank magazine, Jan. 20th 2003

Join the petition: Rusty! Make dumped stories & discussion public!
[ Parent ]

Wetmachine lag (5.00 / 2) (#28)
by johnny on Mon Jul 29, 2002 at 06:13:25 PM EST

The versions of the "Foreword" and "Notes on the Source Code" currently on Wetmachine.com are a bit out of sync; sorry. They are about 87.923% the same as the final versions in the printed book. I'll have the newer versions posted by this time tomorrow. In the meantime they're close enough to give you feel for the book under review, I think.

By the way, what fun to get to put a +1FP on this brilliant critique!

yr frn,
jrs
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.

Other pomo madness I have enjoyed (none / 0) (#74)
by edwin on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 04:09:17 PM EST

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. A man makes a film about a haunted house. A blind man reviews the critical literature about the film, writes it all down on scraps of paper, and dies. Someone else writes a copiously-footnoted version of the dead man's notes, while going mad and having a lot of sex. The film includes someone reading a book called House of Leaves. Baffling and scary.

Zeitgeist, by the ever-reliable Bruce Sterling. Set in a world where postmodernism works: that is, all that stuff about narratives being socially constructed actually affects reality. Very funny.

HoL++, Zeitgeist++ (none / 0) (#75)
by rusty on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 04:35:10 PM EST

I agree on both, but I don't think Zeitgeist is postmodern at all. It's set in a world of pomo sensibilities (i.e. our world ;-)) but I was much more talking about pomo formal tricks, not really themes (though CCD has some of those too). Zeitgeist is really a striaghtforward thriller, formally.

House of Leaves rocked, and is indeed another good example. CCD is a bit more experimental than HoL, if anything, but shares some of the same tricks with multiple narrators, and confused provenance. And typography, now that I think about it.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

The concept (none / 0) (#79)
by medham on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 10:53:06 PM EST

Of Zeitgeist was first explicity theorized by the German Romantics more than two hundred years ago.

I don't mean to rock your boat, but you passed this dangerous note.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

How about that (none / 0) (#82)
by rusty on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 11:48:19 PM EST

Score one for you! I didn't know that. Where?

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Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
That (5.00 / 1) (#84)
by medham on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 11:54:16 PM EST

Was "explicitly."

You've been letting your feelings show.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

But... (none / 0) (#85)
by rusty on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 12:29:56 AM EST

You didn't answer me! Where did German Romantics theorize the premise of Zeitgeist? I'm not trying to be an ass or anything, I seriously would like to know more.

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Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
All over (5.00 / 1) (#86)
by medham on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 12:37:45 AM EST

It can be argued that the concept of the "spirit of the time" was integral to Romantic self-fashioning in general. There's a famous quote from Faust, which you should run out and read right now, if you haven't.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Um (none / 0) (#87)
by rusty on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 12:45:07 AM EST

I'm aware that the concept of "zeitgeist" the word wasn't invented by Sterling. We're talking about Zeitgeist the novel. "Music promoter" Leggy Starlitz gets tangled up in shady global dealings while trying to manage a manufactured pop band.

That was a pretty weak punchline for such a good setup.

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Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

I have no idea (none / 0) (#88)
by medham on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 01:11:28 AM EST

What you're talking about. Sterling? Like Clarice Sterling?

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Hellooooo Clarice.... (NT) (none / 0) (#89)
by rusty on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 01:29:59 AM EST



____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Nah (none / 0) (#94)
by br284 on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 03:13:43 PM EST

That's Starling, not Sterling.

Back to the glass room for you...

-Chris

[ Parent ]

Which one first? (none / 0) (#77)
by pyra on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 08:26:44 PM EST

Since the two books are so closely linked, would one's experience of Cheap Complex Devices be very hindered by not having already read Acts of the Apostles?

--



--
"It was half way to Rivendell when the drugs began to take hold" - Hunter S. Tolkien "Fear and Loathing in Barad Dur"
A matter of taste (none / 0) (#78)
by johnny on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 08:49:53 PM EST

It's my hope that CCD will stand on its own, however I think a lot of the jokes work a lot better if you know Acts.

I think it does come down to taste, perhaps. Acts is a lot more straight-ahead, a traditional "thriller;" CCD is more like Naked Lunch or something.

yr frn,
jrs
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.
[ Parent ]

I think... (none / 0) (#80)
by rusty on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 11:45:45 PM EST

I actually would pretty strongly recommend Acts first, then CCD. They're both good, and CCD does stand on its own, but if you do plan to read both (and you probably will anyway), read Acts first. Partly it'll ease you into the overall story in a much more straightforward way, and partly because you'll definitely miss some of the more amusing "in-joke" bits of CCD if you haven't read Acts yet.

By the way, I think this is probably the single funniest line in CCD:

If it were not for the stunning clarity of the MP/AOS assembly language programming manual, this present volume would not exist, and the Hofstadter prize would await its first claimant.

Gee, I wonder who wrote that stunningly clear MP/AOS assembly language programming manual? cough! cough!

My printout of the PDF has that line circled and a huge "HA!" scribbled in the margin. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

MP/AOS (none / 0) (#92)
by johnny on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 05:52:08 AM EST

Actually, that manual is stunningly clear insofar as *any* assembly language programming manual can be clear. It was the third (of 25 or so) manuals that I wrote in my techwriter career before I became a pointy-haired manager. I think it was upon discovery that I legitimately could place the phrase "pseudo-op pop code" into what I was writing that I realized I might indeed learn to like that job. . .

yr frn,
jrs
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.
[ Parent ]
Cheap Complex Devices: A computer, a madman, and a swarm of bees | 97 comments (61 topical, 36 editorial, 0 hidden)
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