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Cheap Complex Devices Paperback – August 26, 2002

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Editorial Reviews


Cheap Complex Devices is astonishing on every level a book can be astonishing. . . a pure breathtaking feat of narrative. -- Rusty Foster, of

The future is here, we cannot outrun it. Confront it, love it in the sublime prose of this book. -- Hugh Betcham, of Betcham Review Services

From the Inside Flap

If Charles Dickens had been a parallel processor, if Leo Tolstoy had been made of silicon, if Vladimir Nabokov had written in hexadecimal, if John Updike had a universal power supply and a cooling fan, they might have written Cheap Complex Devices, winners of the inaugual Hofstadter Prize for computer-written novel awarded by the prestigious Society for Analytical Engines. Cheap Complex Devices represents the state of the art in mechanically-constructed narrative, and the future of fiction.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Rosalita Associates (August 26, 2002)
  • ISBN-10: 192975230X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1929752300
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 6 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,183,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John (F.X, Compton, Damien) Sundman grew up on a small farm in New Jersey, attended Xavier (Jesuit, military) High School on 16th Street Manhattan, got a degree in anthropology from Hamilton College, did a two year rural development stint in Peace Corps, then: Purdue grad school agricultural economics, 25 years or so high tech hardware software Boston area & Silicon Valley, drop out Martha's Vineyard, truck driver, warehouseman, construction worker, working class hero, poverty & embarrassment. Wrote technoparanoid novel, metafictiony geekoid novella, dystopian illustrated phantasmagoria; back in and out of high tech; firefighter; husband, father of 3, essayist for; food pantry worker.

My website is

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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
There once was a madman who dreamed that he was sane and it was the rest of the world that was mad. From that day on he was never certain if he was mad, or if he was a swarm of bees, or if he was a Shaker village, or if he was a court deposition in defense of Ted Kaczynski, or if he was a fictional character in a novel written by a computer. Or if there was really any difference between these things.
To put it another way: "Read This Manuscript, It Is By a Madman Who Thinks He Is a Computer Program."
John Sundman's long-awaited second novel, Cheap Complex Devices is astonishing, on just about every level a book can be astonishing. In one sense, it is a full 180 degree reversal from his first book Acts of the Apostles which was a fairly straightforward techno-thriller in the Michael Crichton mold. In another sense, CCD is the exact same story as Acts.
Cheap Complex Devices is composed of four (or possibly five) parts, at least one of which is actually missing. The Foreword tells the story of the book's genesis according to nominal editor John Compton Sundman, of Stanhope Island, Maine. He recounts how he became involved in a prototypical game of nerd one-upmanship at a meeting of the Special Interest Group for Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI). Two research groups, both working on "Human-Language Storytellers" (or "Hals", which are software programs that write stories) meet over dinner one night, and eventually get into an argument about whose Hal is better.
The rivalry between the two competing research groups leads them to propose a contest, the first ever Hofstadter Prize for Machine-Written Narrative, to determine whose storytelling program is the best.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Ichabob on April 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is not a review of John Sundman's "Cheap Complex Devices" (CCD). If it were, the first sentence of this paragraph would be false, forming a rather simplistic example of a "strange loop", one of those inherently self-contradictory structures whose existence is postulated by Goedel's theorem to be possible in any "sufficiently complex" system that can represent statements in logic.
After the obligatory snippets of glowing reviews, the back cover proudly declares that CCD was awarded the Hofstadter Prize for computer-generated fiction. Douglas Hofstadter is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of one of the seminal literary works related to computer science, "Goedel, Escher, Bach: the Eternal Golden Braid". Goedel, as mentioned above, was a mathematician whose most famous work dealt with self contradiction in logical systems; Escher was an artist who created many famous works that play upon our interpretations of "3 dimensional" drawings done on flat surfaces. Bach, of course, was a 17th century German organist of some repute.
The first key to understanding CCD is to realize that there is, in fact, no Hofstadter prize, and no Society for Analytical Engines to award it. This book was not written by a military surplus AWACS computer with (or without) a faulty floating point unit. Even the review snippets on the back cover are fictional. All of these fictions regarding the book could be described as "meta fiction", which exist on a different conceptual level from the book itself. The clever use of meta-fiction justifies this volume's claim on the Hofstadter Award. Except that, if the award actually existed, the metafiction would not, and this book would no longer merit the award. Strange loops indeed.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Howard Stearns on October 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Cheap Complex Devices" is one volume of a matched pair with "Acts of the Apostles." Both are laced with references to each other and retell scenes and themes from different viewpoints in an eternal golden braid. Reading both, any geek will enjoy finding the jokes, the errors, and the parodies and elegies of themselves. The whole effect is naughty and pretentious and fun: like drinking Glenlivet, listening to late Beatles, and discussing Dan Dennett with that stunning comp. sci. major you?d rather be sleeping with.
And like the Beatles, it helps to have a guide to the backstory:
The other and earlier volume, "Acts of the Apostles", reads as a technological thriller. It is an entertaining and satisfying story that you can imagine would have Harrison Ford or some other favorite actor in the lead role. It stands on its own.
The CCD volume contains the novella, "Bees, or, The Floating Point Error." This reads like Hunter S Thompson narrating Douglas Hofstadter: "Goedel, Escher, Bach" on acid.
Also included in CCD is an introduction to both stories. It purports to be an academic article describing each story as written by a computer program for an AI story-telling contest.
Finally, we have a forward in CCD that presents an explanation of why there are two separate volumes, several different John Sundmans, and yet another name for the collection.
All are threaded with malfunctioning brains and psyches and processors. There's guilt and Ted Kaczynsky and a quest to internalize God. But while the craft of "Acts" is in telling an entertaining story, CCD is deeper and closer to the author. Like many a second album, it might not be appreciated by people who enjoyed the popular hooks of the premier.
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