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the questions

  1. What's good hacker sci-fi

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the consensus

Great 60s and 70s anti-war sci-fi from a master in the art. A modern classic, and a good read that serves as a rite of passage.

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the review

Somewhere right now there's a high school kid reading this book.

And that's a good thing: I found Slaughterhouse-Five an easy-to-read book that was almost lyrical, yet the sing-along nature of the prose sometimes totally obscured the intricate story and polemic below.

I think there are at least three storylines at work here, but it's a bit difficult to say because of the time-traveling nature of the way Vonnegut created his work. It's certainly sci-fi, but it's sci-fi in almost a superficial way. The key story here is an semi-autobiographical rant against the senselessness of war. But I'm not sure that is important.

The book leaves you like that. You're uncertain of exactly what you've just took in. Immediately after I finished reading, I went back and read the first 20 percent of the beginning again: it made more sense the second time. I felt like I could have continued through to the end a second time, but then I would, likely as not, be in an infinite loop. Fitting, perhaps, but not a good thing.

I believe our hero has lost his sanity. Or perhaps not. It could be that aliens have really abducted him. Or not. There's a wonderful ambivalence in the prose.

Vonnegut breaks a lot of rules in this book, but at the same time the book has a flat, almost juvenile nature to it. In the background I can sense the author railing against all warfare and the absurdity of mankind, but he never really gets around to just saying it. It's the kind of book you read when you're 18 and think "oh wow! This has convinced me war is awful!" It's a coming-of-age book.

It's also the kind of book that easily makes the reader work at where the author is going. The individual lines and scenes read easily enough, but putting them all together and tracking the overall narrative makes you invest a little more in the book than your average dime-store novel. To me this always increases the pleasure of the experience.

But I'm not sure that you have the same experience at 45 that you might have at 20. I read this for the first time at 45 -- it seemed a bit trite. I really liked it and I can grok why it's considered a great work, but to me the beauty of the book is that there's so much there and at the same time there's so little there. I think you have to read it to understand what I'm saying.

Good books give you a feeling that lasts a long time after you read them. I am going to easily remember our hero, Billy Pilgrim, and his flat, passive look on life and the horrors he went through for a long time to come.

I wouldn't read this again, and I think it the experience of reading it loses it's luster as you get older, but this qualifies in my mind as a great book, and I'm happy that I read it and can happily recommend it to others. Vonnegut has a mind like no other that I've read. It was fun spending time with him.


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

Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

Don't let the ease of reading fool you--Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters..." Slaughterhouse-Five (taken from the name of the building where the POWs were held) is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author's experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut's other works, but the book's basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy--and humor.


the video

kurt being kurt

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.