the item

This Perfect Day
This Perfect Day

the questions

  1. What's good hacker sci-fi

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the consensus

A great dystopian sci-fi novel that belongs alongside "A Clockwork Orange". Cleanly written and powerfully plotted, makes for a great book for hackers looking to take a break

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the review

Everybody has their own definition of what makes good art: it's trendy, it has a great message, it's thought-provoking. And so on.

My definition of good art is art that has an emotional impact even after a long period of time has lapsed. " Anna Karenina" is good art because Tolstoy had such a wonderful way with describing characters that the story unfolds today as brilliantly as it did a long time ago.

"The Perfect Day" meets this criteria.

First, it's about society; how we interact with each other. What makes a good society and what makes a bad one? Secondly, it's about computers. What is the proper role of automation in our lives? Finally, it's about hacking and rebellion.

I read this entire book without realizing how old it was. I found it emotionally engaging and intriguing. At the end, I was very surprised to find it was written in 1969.

That timelessness -- and the impact the book had on me after several days have passed -- makes it good art.

I could mention some of the popular things you've probably consumed, movies and books mostly, that have copied from this book, but to do so would give the plot away, and I don't want to do that. I always find it neat when you read plots and ideas closer to the original. Somehow things get lost in translation.

Most of all, this book was a very enjoyable reading experience. I had just got through reading a few programming books and wanted a book that was easy, clean, and free of difficult concepts. I found this book to be clean, simple, and also strangely enough powerful. To me, "clean" books are books written without pretense, poetry, or obfuscation. What you read is what you get. This book was written in a wonderfully minimalistic style: direct and engaging. At the risk of sounding poetic myself, this book was so clean that at times I could hear the wind blowing between the lines of text. The things I thought were flaws as I started reading, the flat countenance of the main character, the direct format, the seemingly-random asides, were all intricately-assembled parts of the plot.

There are no empty lines here. The text has the feel of a work that has been polished and cut to a fine edge. Levin is no Tolstoy, that's for sure, but the book is nicely executed. Stephen King once said of the author, Ira Levin, that he was "the Swiss watchmaker of suspense novels, he makes what the rest of us do look like cheap watchmakers in drugstores." As usual with blurbs like this, they tend to be overstated. But in this case not by much. This is a high-quality read.

Coolest part? That in such a simple and direct manner the author manages to pull you into thinking about a really complex subject, a subject which is immensely important to us today.

One of the characters in the book is a computer which controls all aspects of civilization: when people are born, when they marry, what jobs they have, when they die. It makes for a powerful (but overused by now) adversary. The interesting thing about this book is that if you replaced the idea of a single computer mastermind with a distributed system controlled by the whims of the population, you'd get a society just as twisted as the one in the book, just with no bad guy. This, in my opinion, is a plausible future.

Drama demands that there must be a single entity or point of conflict, but real life has no such restrictions. We could end up in the same place as our hero in another 100 years and have nobody to blame as being our oppressor. A sobering thought.

When reading a clean and direct book that's well-written, I find my mind relaxes as the dialog and scenes play themselves out and I slowly start grappling with the deeper issues on a subconscious level. I find this experience very pleasant, like taking a walk in a park on a clear sunny day and letting the mind wander. I managed to read the book in two sittings, which is unusual for me. It was very enjoyable.

All in all, this is an excellent book for hackers who want to take a break from the more hardcore and intrusive books and just think about the big picture. It's books like this that help me make it through other books that are much harder to read.

It's a good book, it's an easy, fast, and enjoyable read, and it's good art. Read it. You'll like it.


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

By the author of Rosemary‘s Baby, a horrifying journey into a future only Ira Levin could imagine. Considered one of the great dystopian novels—alongside Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World—Ira Levin's frightening glimpse into the future continues to fascinate readers even forty years after publication.

The story is set in a seemingly perfect global society. Uniformity is the defining feature; there is only one language and all ethnic groups have been eugenically merged into one race called “The Family.“ The world is ruled by a central computer called UniComp that has been programmed to keep every single human on the surface of the earth in check. People are continually drugged by means of regular injections so that they can never realize their potential as human beings, but will remain satisfied and cooperative. They are told where to live, when to eat, whom to marry, when to reproduce. even the basic facts of nature are subject to the UniComp's will—men do not grow facial hair, women do not develop breasts, and it only rains at night.

With a vision as frightening as any in the history of the science fiction genre, This Perfect Day is one of Ira Levin`s most haunting novels.


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.