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True Names: And the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier Paperback – December 14, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This remarkable anthology reprints Hugo winner Vinge's (The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge) "True Names" (1981), the story that began SF's cyberpunk revolution, with 11 essays showing its effect on science as well as fiction. The best are the testimonials by pioneers in virtual reality, cryptography and artificial intelligence. The most famous contributors, Marvin Minsky and Danny Hillis, also show the deepest understanding of Vinge's vision. The weakest pieces are science-fictional, appearing pale in the shadow of Vinge's story. Fellow SF author John M. Ford's essay is lightweight, while a stunted attempt at storytelling by Richard Stallman quickly reverts to polemic. The overall problem with the collection is its wildly unbalanced political stance. A quarter of the essayists are "crypto-anarchists," who see the ability of individuals to act secretly as the only defense against a totalitarian surveillance state. Their claim that the response to public tragedy is always a call to restrict civil rights seems sadly prescient, but their antisocial antidote sits poorly after September 11; the crypto-anarchists' beloved secrecy lets both terrorists and tyrants flourish. More socially responsible uses of cryptography exist that could, like the camcorder, give the power of surveillance to the people. It's a shame that editor Frenkel didn't seek out alternate voices such as Bruce Sterling or David Gelernter, but the book is still a testament to SF's power to shape the future and give us advance warning of the rocky issues ahead.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


“Many Net veterans cite True Names as a seminal influence that shaped their ideas about Net policy. It became a cult classic among hackers and presaged everything from Internet interactive games to Neuromancer.” ―Wired
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 2 edition (December 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312862075
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312862077
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #304,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

313 of 314 people found the following review helpful By on March 23, 1999
Format: Paperback
When I was starting out as a PhD student in Artificial Intelligence at Carnegie Mellon, it was made known to us first-year students that an unofficial but necessary part of our education was to locate and read a copy of an obscure science-fiction novella called *True Names*. Since you couldn't find it in bookstores, older grad students and professors would directly mail order sets of ten and set up informal lending libraries -- you would go, for example, to Hans Moravec's office, and sign one out from a little cardboard box over in the corner of his office. This was 1983 -- the Internet was a toy reserved for American academics, "virtual reality" was not a popular topic, and the term "cyberpunk" had not been coined. One by one, we all tracked down copies, and all had the tops of our heads blown off by Vinge's incredible book.
*True Names* remains to this day one of the four or five most seminal science-fiction novels ever written, just in terms of the ideas it presents, and the world it paints. It laid out the ideas that have been subsequently worked over so successfully by William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. *And* it's well written. *And* it's fun.
In my grad student days, we loved to sit around and discuss the implications of Vernor's ideas. Sixteen years later, I do research at MIT, and it's still fun to sit around and talk about how Vernor's ideas are coming to be.
(Amazingly enough, Vinge has done this not once, but twice: *Marooned in Realtime* contains ideas even more interesting than *True Names* -- all in the setting of a murder mystery that takes place 50 million years in the future.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 11, 1997
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Want to know the future of the human race? A lot of authors explore the future and make it gripping or entertaining; Vinge explores the future and gets it right. True Names is a story of amplified human intelligence.

Intelligence determines the rate of technological progress. Once technology is used to amplify intelligence, a positive-feedback loop of enormous power is created. No mortal can ever write of that future - but Vinge creeps up on the edge of human history and shows that Something lies beyond.

This is the story that introduced the Vingean Singularity of SF legend: "Every time we consider the creation of intelligences greater than our own... extrapolation breaks down and new models must be applied... the world will pass beyond our understanding."

The Singularity is seriously projected, by Ph.D.'d folk, to occur around 2030. And in my opinion, it's that or nuclear war. Choose. Be ready. Read this book.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Paul F. Starrs on January 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
Vernor Vinge, a professor at San Diego State University (Math Sciences) has the most fertile imagination conceivable; I could hardly agree more with the reviewer below [ from Cambridge, Mass.] that Vernor Vinge, Neal Stephenson, and William Gibson are the science fiction prodigies of the end of the last millennium -- and those to watch at the start of this one.
*True Names* is something I stumbled on in a ratty paperback that, for some odd reason, had been rebound and inserted in my university library (I think because we had an acquisitions librarian with a taste for the singular). Reading the story in 1990 was a revelation, and it will be to anyone who finds it in this collection, blessedly supposed to be re-released (again) in March 2001 (though that too has been much delayed). A great deal of "classic" science fiction (though this would as readily stand as fiction, or just good writing) has disappeared from print; the market appears to be otherwise. But with J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter, Ursula LeGuin's novels, and other such such fare rising to the top, let's hope that the best science fiction work can be showcased -- as this appears to be.
The main story, a novella, treats the relationship of a variety of figures in a role-playing and networked world. It's also a story with a great ending, a great middle and start, and genuine surprises, even in its form: the abbreviated (and underappreciated) novella. Let's hope it stays in print, and that many step forward and buy!
Incidentally, Vernor Vinge does project a remarkably apt (and well-done) geographical sensibility -- he's the son of a geography professor (Michigan State University), and the inheritance has run true. That's mentioned as a not-incidental detail -- if I remember aright, Neal Stephenson was also a geography undergraduate student. It can matter.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 7, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In 1981, vinge published the book that conceived the cyberworld that exists on the internet today. Software bots, node-hopping, 3D chat rooms, warez, avatars, a hacker underground...they are all here....and were described in this book before IBM sold its first personal computer. I am amazed at Vinge's ability to see the future. ...or, as I believe, he created the future by giving a generation of computer programmers the vision to build what he saw.
True Names is a feast for the imagination. I set the book down many times while my mind reeled with extrapolations of the ideas he wrote into his story. The characters are richly developed. the climax was terrific.
Read this book if you can find it. Remember when it was published (14 years before Neuromancer). I have bought 5 copies. But over the years, friends have 'liberated' 3 of them. This book is a prize.
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