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Geek Sublime: Writing Fiction, Coding Software Paperback – 6 Feb 2014
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A thought-provoking set of linked essays that are part memoir, part analysis of geeks, part aesthetic treasure. If that makes the book sound a bit incoherent, it is nothing of the sort. It is a delight to read and never prescriptive. (Iain Pears Daily Telegraph)
Computational thinking is not new, and it is grounded in more fundamental disciplines such as mathematics, philosophy and linguistics. This, indeed, is one of the messages of Vikram Chandra's fascinating and often beautiful new book, a kind of techno-artistic memoir that is informed by his unusual double ability as both novelist and coder. (Steven Poole The Guardian)
Mr Chandra's description of how computers work is masterly. (The Economist)
An illuminating, genre-defying exploration of a world that, despite the ubiquity of computers, most people (many coders included) find alien and don't fully understand. (Carl Wilkinson Financial Times)
A compendium of delight in which Chandra delves with relish into the bowels of technology and the intricate mechanisms of linguistic suggestion, drawing on his own experiences to create an extraordinary thesis that is part autobiography, part crash course in coding and unfailingly an ode to language ... an eloquent tribute to text and its ability to shape our emotions, and rewrite the very world we live in. (Nicola Davis The Observer)
An unexpected tour de force. . . . Its ambition: to look deeply, and with great subtlety, into the connections and tensions between the worlds-the cultures-of technology and art. The book becomes an exquisite meditation on aesthetics, and meanwhile it is also part memoir, the story of a young man finding his way from India to the West and back, and from literature to programming and back. . . . Programmers feel an exhilarating creative mastery, and Chandra captures it. (James Gleick New York Times)
A literate and insightful meditation on two activities that both retain an air of mystery to non-practitioners. (Philip Ball Prospect)
A lovely, surprising, sometimes arcane project that speaks both to the computer crowd and the literary one - and makes the point that they don't have to be separate camps. (Jennifer Howard Times Literary Supplement)
Geek Sublime: Writing Fiction, Coding Software by Vikram Chandra is an examination of the Indian genius for coding, told through the secret computer programming career of the acclaimed literary novelist, Chandra himself.See all Product description
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This section is thought-provoking and persuasive, although issue could be taken with some of his broader generalisations about programming practice and culture (especially where his own personal experience is presented as a representation of the norm).
Chandra then expounds his key idea, that the grammatical rules devised for Sanskrit in the 1st Century BCE show marked similarities to the formal definition of an object orientated programming language. This in itself is a fascinating chapter, but marks a turning point in the book.
The second half, where Chandra gives an extended overview of the theory and philosophy of Sanskrit literature, is far less successful and seems fairly irrelevant to the first half and to the ostensible theme of the book.
Like a poorly documented programming language I found myself constantly paging back and forth to try to discover where a term was originally defined, because terms are immediately qualified and inherited from.
Chandra is a far better writer on computer theory than he is on literary theory, and I confess that I pretty much scanned through the last chapters of the book.
So, a mixed bag. Worth reading for the first few chapters, but I couldn't help thinking that the second half could do with far stronger editing, reorganising, and linking back to the initial themes of the book.
With regard to his observations on the world of literature and fiction writing his reminicences and musings largely revolve around Indian cultural life and history, where he observes the juxtapositions of his experiences between his Indian upbringing and that of American life and culture. Whilst I’m sure much of this will resonate with individuals with a similar background, it will mean little to the average westerner and European like myself.
As a software developer myself I found many of his reflections on the software development process pithy and insightful. I, like the author, do find an inner beauty and joy in coding software. However I was left wanting more on this topic, as I’d say about 60-70% of the book is biased towards the author’s career as a fiction writer and only 30-40% as a software developer.
Given the title of this book and the blurb on the back cover I expected more musings on the beauty and aesthetics of code and software development, but I was left disappointed.
However, I do agree with the wonderful sentiment quoted on the books cover ...
"Making software gave me a little jolt of joy each time a piece of code worked ... the world fell away, my body vanished, time receded ... You can slam this pleasure spike into your veins again and again, and you want more, and more, and more."
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