3 Fiction Books Every Developer Should Read

Programming involves a lot of screen-staring: syntax parsing, business logic construction, and compiling. Sometimes, it's nice to crack open a book (virtual or not) and watch something bug-free and fault-less scroll across the page and not have the urge to re-format it. But given the vast array (or heap) of literature, what are some "default reads" for the developer's soul?

Filtering out "non-fiction", I'm committing 3 fiction books that have inspired me in the developing discipline:

1. Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson


The story of Hiro Protagonist, a pizza-delivery man for Uncle Enzo's mafia (by day), and hacker-hero by night racing to take down a virus that's burning his friends. Along the way, he's rescued by Y.T., a 15-year-old skater-hacker, who starts a data-couriering service with Hiro. Then, MacGuffin shows up and it's all about Steganography-viruses and fun.

Reasons for a Developer to Read:

  • Tropes that Work: Sometimes your day job doesn't define your night job
  • Prophetic: Published in May 2nd, 2000, it's responsive to what was going on with the bubble of digital culture, pre-crash
  • It's all in your head: Memetic Viruses!
  • You gotta talk about it to get beyond it: Contrarian views of sexual dynamics in a culture Rife with dudes-running things (also, the villain is called Rife)
  • Corps be Corpin': Contrarian views of big corps running things, and being assholes about it
  • Matrix: To program, you have to make understand rules, make rules, break rules, reject rules, and, ultimately, realize you have to understand Ideas (then repeat the cycle)
  • The Author: Neal Stephenson challenges and pushes our digital culture: technology used to empower people (Elon Musk), fighting with contrarian ideals (Peter Thiel), and hacking away at night to build the ideas behind the tools without being a total asshole (every coder ever).

Here's a pull quote, to get an idea of the writing style:

 "Did you win your sword fight?"
 "Of course I won the fucking sword fight," Hiro says. "I'm the greatest sword fighter in the world."
 "And you wrote the software."
 "Yeah. That, too," Hiro says."

2. Neuromancer by William Gibson


Henry Case, a cyber-cowboy did one-job-too many and had his skills literally burnt out by an employer (get it?) after having stolen from them. But he's given a 2nd chance at life, by hooking up with a street samurai named Molly to work a new job that only his skills can handle: supporting an A.I's hidden agenda from a wealthy technocrat family.

Reasons for a Developer to Read:

  • Mr. Literal meet Captain Figurative: The protag, Case is burnt out from his employer, and wants to get back to using his skills again
  • There's no movie?: The future envisioned inspired Cyperpunk RPG, Shadowrun RPG, and where nearly every futuristic, non-Philip-K-Dick version of what technology could take us
  • Sounds like Every Startup I've ever known: You've got a Hacker and a Hustler building a team to rock out for an A.I. with an unknown agenda
  • Trivia Time: Armitage // Corto (the "Mr Johnson" that brings the team together) is Snake Plissken. William Gibson was inspired by Escape from New York: ''You flew the Gulfire over Leningrad, didn't you?'
  • Adding to your Etymology: William Gibson coined the words Cyberspace, The Matrix, and is the seminal author of popular cyber-punk culture
  • Gamers Unite: William Gibson was one of the first playtesters of Cyberpunk RPG
  • Seriously?: It's William Gibson, man. If you engage in digital culture, read his entire canon

Here's a pull quote, to get an idea of the writing style:

 "A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he'd taken and the corners he cut in Night City, and he'd still see the matrix in his dreams, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colourless void... The Sprawl was a long, strange way home now over the Pacific, and he was no Console Man, no cyberspace cowboy. Just another hustler, trying to make it through. But the dreams came on in the Japanese night like livewire voodoo, and he'd cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, hands clawed into the bedslab, temper foam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn't there." 

3. The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian

Mark Watney, on the third trip to Mars, gets stranded from his crew. As a mechanical engineer and botanist (from Chicago!), he has to survive 4 years on a habitat meant to sustain 30 days while no one on Earth realizes he's alive.

Reasons for a Developer to Read:

  • Attitude: Mark's the lowest ranked member on the crew; and doesn't take crap lying down from NASA, Mars, or himself
  • Never say Die: The furthest human in space, with no hope of rescue, Mark keeps pushing the next goal, and overcoming each obstacle. It's like every developer ever.
  • Dark Humor: No one gives you laughs: you have to make them. Mark catalogues his experience and keeps his sense of humor going from "Sol 1"
  • Empathy: The first concern Mark has is that his crew are ok, and don't blame them for leaving him behind. Even at a distance, his an altruist.
  • F the Man: He doesn't let NASA run rough-shod with his plans, and keeps pushing for survival
  • G.S.D: Mark's a cowboy, bucks authority, convention, and wisdom with a G.S.D. attitude
  • Potatoes: Nuff Said

Here's a pull quote, to get an idea of the writing style:

 "I guess you could call it a "failure", but I prefer the term "learning experience"." 

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