I’ve got an ever-growing list of books that I intend to write reviews of because they’re so damn interesting. In fact, it’s because they deserve full reviews that I’m not writing any reviews. So, with the knowingly-false intention of coming back to write a longer review, here’s a brief report on one book on my list.
John Sundman (Disclosure: John is a friend from a mailing list) is a geek, and Cheap Complex Devices is a geeky novel. It not only assumes familiarity with some technical concepts (some but not all of which it explains along the way), it’s got a slashdotty sense of humor. But it shares its deep recursiveness — I can’t tell if it ever actually comes to ground — not only with Stanislaw Lem and Douglas Hostadter, but also with Borges, and contains passages that are reminiscent of (deep praise ahead) Nabokov.
Since much of the fun is in figuring out what’s going on in this very brief work, I don’t want to give away too much. But I feel safe in disclosing the premise: This book is supposedly the winning entry in a contest for computer-generated narratives. But there may or may not be a floating point error in the computer. Thematically, I take the book as a playful meditation on the emergent properties of loosely connected systems, the way a hive emerges from bees, the Shakers are (or, perhaps, are not) more than their individual members, narratives are more than their words, and consciousness is more than a bunch of neurons (or bits). It’s a narrative that seems to be at war with itself, struggling to be whole, but not sure that it wants to be.
Yeah, I’m being obscure. In part that’s to keep the book a surprise for you. In part it’s because I haven’t figured out how all the pieces work together. This is not a normal book. But it’s fascinating, and written with a very sure hand. As Julianne Chatelain says in her review, it “contains sentences of terrible beauty that are also terribly funny.” As soon as I finished it, I began reading it again.
John details the mechanics and economics of flogging self-published books in his report on DefCon.