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Cheap Complex Devices Paperback – August 26, 2002
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Intrusion: A Novel
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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
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
There's a scale of ways that a novel can affect you. It can leave you with a powerful set of impressions and scenes, a feeling that lasts for days, a sense of someone's world... Read morePublished 25 days ago by Amazon Customer
A madcap romp that reminded me of Philip K. Dick and Thomas Pynchon... funny, engaging, entertaining, erudite, sexy, technically savvy; social commentary, high-tech spirituality,... Read morePublished 3 months ago by hypocrite lecteur
And decide to throw in a bit of Alan Ginzburg, a dash of Hunter Thompson, a NAND gate or two, an 80s history of pizza box minis in a broth of recursion and shake to and froe. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Richard Careaga
This is a confounding and clever book. Imagine if we recombined the character sequences of Pynchon and Hofstadter's works with the "Does it Blend? Read morePublished 16 months ago by Brian Sletten
Cheap Complex Devices is a lovely slap on the head by the wet fist of surrealism. It is a frothy coffee-like concoction with tentacles sticking out of it, and they are made of... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Peltier Cooler
One thing is clear: we're in the hands of someone who's got the kind of background in technology that would leave him uncomfortably familiar with devastatingly subtle bugs, the... Read morePublished 18 months ago by Ulysses
I tend to favor straight forward narrative, so I am glad that I read Acts of the Apostles (the one by John Sundman not the one attributed to Luke) before I read this. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Peter J. Reilly
Awesome book but there's just so much to it that I think I'm going to reread it again. Interesting read, very well written and, as always, gives unique things to ponder and think... Read morePublished 23 months ago by Andy Strain
I walked right into the first trap the author laid out. Carelessly, I might add. It took me many, many pages to realize that I was even in a trap! Read morePublished on August 17, 2013 by L. Caine