Summer reading: my recommendations (2010)

Containment by Christian Cantrell is an excellent sci-fi novel. And you can grab it nearly for free from the author’s page. The premise of the book is that humanity built a colony on Venus. Children  are told that Earth cannot be reached. Massive research into economical oxygen production is required for long term survival. Indeed,  plants cannot survive on the surface of Venus. Or can they? Couldn’t we design special plants that could survive? One of the young researchers sets out to answer the question. Unfortunately, he won’t like the answer. The plot may not be extraordinary, but there are many things to like for computer nerds. For example, the book is set in a future where we appear to have cheap quantum computing. Or, at least, some very fast computers. One of the consequence is that any sufficiently smart kid can break any encryption. Moreover, it is cheaper to simulate most physical experiments than to actual execute them.

atrocity archiveThe Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross is the first in an ongoing series of books. Stross was a software engineer, and it shows. His book reveals many secrets all Computer Scientists should know. For example, do you know why Knuth will never finish the Art of Computer programming, no matter what he tells us? Here’s a quote:

The [Turing] theorem is a hack on discrete number theory that simultaneously disproves the Church-Turing hypothesis (wave if you understood that) and worse, permits NP-complete problems to be converted into P-complete ones. This has several consequences, starting with screwing over most cryptography algorithms—translation: all your bank account are belong to us—and ending with the ability to computationally generate a Dho-Nha geometry curve in real time.

This latter item is just slightly less dangerous than allowing nerds with laptops to wave a magic wand and turn them into hydrogen bombs at will. Because, you see, everything you know about the way this universe works is correct—except for the little problem that this isn’t the only universe we have to worry about. Information can leak between one universe and another. And in a vanishingly small number of other universes there are things that listen, and talk back—see Al-Hazred, Nietzsche, Lovecraft, Poe, et cetera. The many-angled ones, as they say, live at the bottom of the Mandelbrot set, except when a suitable incantation in the platonic realm of mathematics—computerised or otherwise—draws them forth. (And you thought running that fractal screensaver was good for your computer?)

4 thoughts on “Summer reading: my recommendations (2010)”

  1. Charles Stross’ new novel of the Laundry files, The Fuller Memorandum was just released. I got my copy yesterday, and it looks like another ripping good yarn.

  2. One of the funniest things about Atrocity Archives is Stross’ descriptions of corporate bureaucracy. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

    “The offices … are typical cubicle hell: anonymous beige fabric partitions dividing up little slices of corporate life. The photocopier hulks like an altar beneath a wall with devotional scriptures — the company’s code of conduct, lists of compulsory employee self-actualization, training courses, that sort of thing … There’s a mass of Dilbert cartoons pinned to the side of his partition, spoor of a mildly rebellious mind-set; doubtless middle managers prowl round the warren before any visit from the upper echelons, tearing down such images that signal dissent … Poor bastard, what must it be like to be stuck here … at the heart of the new industrial revolution, never knowing where the lightning’s going to strike next?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *