the item

A Fire Upon the Deep
A Fire Upon the Deep

the questions

  1. What's good hacker sci-fi

more about the

the consensus

Great read for hackers wanting to get their heads out of work for a while yet still keep their mind active in science

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the review

What's a good sci-fi novel for hackers? I asked myself that a couple of weeks ago when I decided to take off a week and do something fun.

I had strict criteria: no long-running series books. I really don't want to be reading Astro-Star Trooper serial #73. No fantasy books. Hey, I really like fantasy books at times, but I really wanted something with some intellectual grit to it. Something with a bit of hard science.

And most importantly, something with a good review from various readers, especially hackers.

I chose this book, and I wasn't disappointed.

"A Fire Upon the Deep" tells the story of a galaxy in which the physics change depending on how far you are out from the center. It's a galaxy where there are millions of civilizations, all interacting with each other over some form of galactic net. History has existed for millions of years, so between the data storage, number of communication nodes, and emptiness of space, you get a universe that is realistic enough to believe, yet still has aspects of our current world meshed in.

I haven't read that many reviews of AFOD, but I noticed that it had an incredible number of reviews over at Amazon, mostly positive. That put it on my short list. Once I actively started hearing other hackers recommending it to each other ("you may love or hate this book, but either way you should read it") I knew it was high on my list of holiday books.

I don't want to get too much into the plot -- that would spoil it for you. But I'll say that I really liked Vinge's insight into how tech and people work together. I liked the pacing and character vignettes in the book, and I liked his depiction of an alien medieval civilization and the creatures that lived there. Plenty of food for thought.

What didn't I like? I didn't like that a couple of the main characters sounded suspiciously like potted plants. I didn't like the ending -- I thought it was a bit forced and happened too quickly. I was expecting a last section to open up which never materialized.

But Vernor is a decent storyteller, with a solid footing in science and interesting opinions on the way we relate to machines. In the end, I found myself wanting to read more of what he's written, and that's a good thing.


the buzz

Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along

In this Hugo-winning 1991 SF novel, Vernor Vinge gives us a wild new cosmology, a galaxy-spanning "Net of a Million Lies," some finely imagined aliens, and much nail-biting suspense. Faster-than-light travel remains impossible near Earth, deep in the galaxy's Slow Zone--but physical laws relax in the surrounding Beyond. Outside that again is the Transcend, full of unguessable, godlike "Powers." When human meddling wakes an old Power, the Blight, this spreads like a wildfire mind virus that turns whole civilizations into its unthinking tools. And the half-mythical Countermeasure, if it exists, is lost with two human children on primitive Tines World.

Serious complications follow. One paranoid alien alliance blames humanity for the Blight and launches a genocidal strike. Pham Nuwen, the man who knows about Countermeasure, escapes this ruin in the spacecraft Out of Band--heading for more violence and treachery, with 500 warships soon in hot pursuit. On his destination world, the fascinating Tines are intelligent only in combination: named "individuals" are small packs of the doglike aliens. Primitive doesn't mean stupid, and opposed Tine leaders wheedle the young castaways for information about guns and radios. Low-tech war looms, with elaborately nested betrayals and schemes to seize Out of Band if it ever arrives. The tension becomes extreme... while half the Beyond debates the issues on galactic Usenet.


the video

Vernor Vinge on the Singularity – part 1 of 2 - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

Vinge's take on the approaching singularity

What is this?

A while back I wrote an article on my blog listing all the books that hackers recommended to each other from the site HackerNews. The purpose was to provide a place to list book recommendations so that people didn't have to type in the same list over and over again. (HN gets several requests for book recommendations a week. I also get at least a couple each month). It was very well received, and many posters and commenters either asked that I make a site or sent me an email asking me to do so.

How is this any different from the list on the blog?

This list has more books. This list is sortable both by what question you have and your skill level. In addition, once you sort the list, you can save the link with your sort and send it to somebody else. So, for instance, when somebody wants a book for noobs learning to program, you can make a link for that and then reuse it

How did you collect these books?

Initially the list came from Googling "best book" and taking the books from the first few pages returned. Later, I added all the books that were mentioned "You left that out!" when Jacques posted the link. While adding those books, I came across a Stack Overflow link where programmers were asked to list their favorite tech books, so I included those too.

If I ask you to put a book on here, will you?

It depends.

These books were all gathered by finding places where hackers hang out and are suggesting books to other hackers and other hackers agree with them by voting up their suggestion. If I can find an example of this for your book, I'm happy to include it.

How are the books ranked?

I did the best I could with ranking. I am sure there are many things you do not agree with. It would be possible to add voting and personal ranking -- that would make the system much better. Heck, you could rank the books yourself and use it as a customized book list to show to people who want your advice. I'd like to do that, but if I've learned anything is to not let your featureset get ahead of the users. This first version will test the waters to see what kind of interest the community might have.