"things you thought would never end turned out to be the first to vanish
June 22, 2015 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Start-up Costs: ‘Silicon Valley,’ ‘Halt and Catch Fire,’ and How Microserfdom Ate the World
Douglas Coupland’s novel Microserfs is about the spiritual yearnings and time-frittering activities of youngish coders immersed in the drudgery of the software-development process, and how those activities become an expression of those yearnings. It was published 20 years ago this month, which as far as I’m aware makes it the earliest significant stab by a fiction writer at the Great North American Tech-Company/Start-up Novel. It predates Po Bronson’s The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, Dave Eggers’s The Circle, numerous other neuroman-à-clefs, score-settling pseudomemoirs and murder-dot-com whodunits,1 as well as tech-sector TV shows like Silicon Valley and Halt and Catch Fire, serials that pick up where the novels leave off.
We are all more like VeriFone people than we used to be. Mobile-device commercials appropriate the rhetoric of freedom to sell us the devices that will enable our jobs to reach into our lives at any moment, long after we’ve left the office, for the day or for life. More often than not, WORK IS PERSONAL not because we’ve turned it into a space where we can be our best selves but because it bleeds into and colonizes the part of the day we’re supposed to spend living and loving and finding ourselves. Microserfs isn’t without cynicism about Silicon Valley and the new paradigms that were being birthed there circa 1993-94. “I suppose,” Daniel says, “that this is the birthplace of the new postindustrial economy here amid the ghosts of apricot orchards, spinach farms and horse ranches … Here, where sexy new technologies are being blueprinted, CAD’ed, engineered, imagineered and modeled — post-machines making countless millions of people obsolete overnight.”
WIRED Archive: Microserfs - Seven Days in the Life of Young Microsoft. Maybe the search for the next great compelling application is really the search for human identity.

The Evolution of the Internet Novel, 1984 to Present: A Timeline
posted by the man of twists and turns (73 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Didn't Microserfs also have some sort of online Lego-building world subplot which sort of foresaw a Minecraft-like game?

Anyway, my personal claim to fame is that if you go by the dates on the chapters and figure out when Daniel meets Amy in the Bombshelter at U of Waterloo she would have been in my class. Comp Eng at Waterloo was 90% the same people in every class for 4 years straight so presumably fictional-me knew her.

Also, one of the other main characters in the novel has the same first name as me.

And I worked at Microsoft.

So... it's basically my biography. Now slide me something two-dimensional under the door because I need to eat.

(Just kidding! I haven't had an office with a door since 2003! Ha!)
posted by GuyZero at 9:49 AM on June 22, 2015 [29 favorites]


FTFA:
As it stands, the only extant Microserfs adaptation I know of is the abridged audiobook, read by Friends star (and soon-to-be Windows 95 shill) Matthew Perry. I have it on cassette tape; it is maybe the most ’90s object I have ever owned, a curio as totemic as a lock of Alanis Morissette’s hair preserved in a flannel-swaddled vial of Crystal Pepsi.
What, moreso than that food court cup we were discussing the other day?!

--
Look, I haven't read Microserfs since it came out. But my memory of it is that, if it resonated with you it was because you were like its characters in age or work or temperament -- and not because it was a hugely compelling storyline that touched the heart of all. I just didn't think it was such a broadly appealing, timeless story that it would make a good movie -- especially now that everyone's tastebuds have been seared by The Office and the like.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:53 AM on June 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's also based on me. I kept a gerbil in a cage in my office at Microsoft (a theme in the book). AFAIK I was the only one at Microsoft. I was working there at the time he researched the book.

When I was working late at night, I'd put the gerbil, named "Peeve", in a ball and let him wander the halls. When a security guard kept bring the ball back to my office, I made a Microsoft employee badge for Peeve and taped it to the ball. I still have the badge.
posted by Xoc at 9:58 AM on June 22, 2015 [51 favorites]


I just didn't think it was such a broadly appealing, timeless story that it would make a good movie

Hm, they made a TV adaptation of jPod although it could be argued that that had nothing to do with the quality of the story and everything to do with Cancon rules and CBC's odd cultural mandates.

I think Microserfs had a lot of human interest - it was no worse than The First $20 Million with regards to a romantic subplot and quirky characters.

That said, the gee-whiz elements of the book have not aged well. The multitudes of desktop computers with little to no elements of the modern internet and the total lack of mobile devices would make it seem like a movie set in a 1940's switchboard office.
posted by GuyZero at 10:01 AM on June 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


I feel like Microserfs as a novel is held back by the setting -- inside, it's a huge and sprawling novel about the tension between body and mind, and about identity, and about the ways technology both advances and restricts communication. The surface layer of 1990s tech lifestyles makes it harder to see. Maybe it'll be easier to relate to once the 1990s are a distant curiosity.

Or as the linked essay puts it, There’s a case to be made that this — the disconnect between the mental and the physical as experienced by members of a caste of golden-handcuffed knowledge workers, and the possibility of greater harmony between car and driver, consciousness-wise — is the book’s real subject

I read it for the first time back in 1997 or 1998, a year or two after I started having regular internet access, and even then it was already becoming dated. It's one of my favorite novels, and I often wonder how it reads to someone encountering it for the first time in 2004 (dawn of Facebook) or 2015 (the coming of the Apple Watch). I'm not sure I'd even like it if I started reading it in 2015 without having read it before.
posted by pie ninja at 10:08 AM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


aww, c'mon, lot 49 captured a lot of the silicon valley sentiment pre-PC/software.
posted by k5.user at 10:16 AM on June 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


In any conversation having to do with new flavours, I invariably submit "Creamy Dolphin".
posted by Beardman at 10:17 AM on June 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I read Microserfs a lot as a kid, strangely enough, I just really liked it. I was too young to understand 90% of the pop culture or grown-up life references but there was something so warm and human about all the characters and I would read it over and over again.
posted by Aubergine at 10:19 AM on June 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


I had a very peripheral role in the making of the movie adaptation of "The First $20 Million...". About all that I remember about it was an email alias we were asked to make called "ridemecowboy@..."
posted by clawsoon at 10:21 AM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also (so many alsos) - the notion of the extreme anxiety induced by meeting someone online and then trying to work up the nerve to meet them in person... as some sort of sub-culture activity, it's been complete commoditized by the ubiquity of online dating. Meeting people online in chatrooms isn't just something that the technorati do these days - there are literally thousands of people doing this every day now. It's only taken 20 years for that to go from futuristic to quaint.
posted by GuyZero at 10:22 AM on June 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Didn't Microserfs also have some sort of online Lego-building world subplot which sort of foresaw a Minecraft-like game?

You're probably thinking of this AskMe.
posted by zamboni at 10:25 AM on June 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's always been much harder for me to cry over books than over movies or music. The end of Microserfs has always been able to get me to cry.

I am neither a tech geek nor an entrepreneur, so the business aspects tend to go whoosh. The characters have always been totally relatable and believable to me, and that's what drove my love of this book. More than anything, I felt that Coupland really loved the characters (and believe it or not, their environs) and that made them extremely lovable. I link his characterization of place (maybe even as much the shared landscape inside the characters' heads as the actual Redmond or Silicon Valley) to two other novelists who've always been able to make me cry through characterization of people directly related to place--Roddy Doyle, with the Dublin of the Barrytown Trilogy and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, and Ray Bradbury with the Green Town (Waukegan), IL of Dandelion Wine. (All of which I read for the first time fairly closely together, so they were feeding into each other more than they might have been.) I think that element ends up being timeless even though the Microserfs technology became dated, and that's why it's still resonant for me now.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:27 AM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I remember really loving Microserfs when I first read it. (Though now in retrospect, the password hellojed is abysmal infosec and Taylor Swift would not be pleased.) I often think of it when it comes to nerds slamming doors.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:31 AM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I liked Microserfs a bunch, even though I've almost universally hated Coupland's other books. Just by making the coding world seem cool and worth being part of, Microserfs is probably responsible for a couple of life swerves where I've tried to Get Serious About Coding and wound up remembering why I don't like it.

Setting up a comparison between Microserfs and Bleeding Edge, though, that's dirty pool. There aren't too many books out there who come of well when compared to Bleeding Edge.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 10:33 AM on June 22, 2015


Thanks for that link to the timeline of internet novels. I've read and enjoyed several of the books on that list, and now I'm going to read the rest. I recently discovered Ready Player One by searching for books similar to Snow Crash. This list would have been an easier starting point.
posted by diogenes at 10:34 AM on June 22, 2015


neuroman-à-clefs

Ha!
posted by Sangermaine at 10:36 AM on June 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


I read it when I'd been through a start-up (and worked previously in places with a lot of similar vibes). Although these had been mostly Silicon Fen (and what was to become Silicon Roundabout) rather than Silicon Valley, and $vastmoney was notably absent, there were plenty of resonances.

However, I think one of its spiritual antecedents was Soul Of A New Machine, which although not a work of fiction was nonetheless a far better novel than many novels. (Most apt recent thread with SOANM theme.) Very little of Microserfs has stuck with me to the same extent, although that could just be my incompatibility with the writing style.
posted by Devonian at 10:42 AM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I used to have a Microserfs promo item tacked up in my cubicle. It was a moistened towelette pack that has printing on it: "Ideal for the removal of nasal encrustations from computer monitors."
posted by Fleebnork at 10:43 AM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Didn't Microserfs also have some sort of online Lego-building world subplot which sort of foresaw a Minecraft-like game?

Microserfs was one of my favorite books, but it has been so long since I read it. I remember that LEGO-like component too. I believe that also tied in with the mystery of what the unemployed aging dad was working on for their start up.

I had a co-worker who bought this book and gave it to his dad because he thought it would explain how his mind worked better than anything else.
posted by missmerrymack at 10:44 AM on June 22, 2015


huh, stephenson's the big u also came out in 1984 :P (prior to real genius!)
posted by kliuless at 10:49 AM on June 22, 2015


Hm, they made a TV adaptation of jPod although it could be argued that that had nothing to do with the quality of the story and everything to do with Cancon rules and CBC's odd cultural mandates.

This show is really good if you forget that it's an adaptation of the novel but more of a show about how weird Vancouver is.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:54 AM on June 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


it is maybe the most ’90s object I have ever owned, a curio as totemic as a lock of Alanis Morissette’s hair preserved in a flannel-swaddled vial of Crystal Pepsi Orbitz.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:54 AM on June 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


Flavorwire asks if there is a credible hacking novel earlier than "Neuromancer." The answer is a resounding yes. Any list that leaves out 1975's "The Shockwave Rider" by John Brunner is not complete.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:57 AM on June 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


This show is really good if you forget that it's an adaptation of the novel but more of a show about how weird Vancouver is.

That kind of sums up jPod as a book - it starts as the semi-sequel to Microserfs and ends up in a Guy Ritchie movie.
posted by GuyZero at 10:58 AM on June 22, 2015


there's also the bug by ellen ullman! (which takes place in 1984 ;)
posted by kliuless at 11:00 AM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I loved Microserfs, but I think it works even better if you compare it to jPod. Coupland has two sides: this very human and honest side, and then this horribly cynical nihilist side. Microserfs was cathartic and human. jPod is the opposite, an evil twin novel.

jPod came out a decade after Microserfs, and it has very similar themes. Both books even have Lego people on the cover. But Microserfs' Lego dude is an assemblage of identical blocks that looks disheveled, but human and happy, while jPod shows six identical blankly smiling, poorly defined humanoids with regular Lego heads.

So anyway, if Microserfs is the story of nerds escaping the corporate world to experience "real life", jPod is about people who refuse to leave the corporate world even as it slowly but obviously kills them. They dull their boredom with cynical banter, and waste their employer's time as if this is some way to "stick it to the man," though the employer, clearly based on EA, is so flush with cash it never reacts.

Meanwhile all the ancillary characters in the book have really wild (and improbable) adventures, and manage to get incredibly rich in the process.

In Microserfs, the protagonists transform in spite of the world. In jPod, the protagonists refuse to transform in spite of the world changing around them. It's bleak, and it makes Coupland seem like a total asshole... which is cool because he writes himself into jPod, and is described as a total asshole in that reality too.
posted by sixohsix at 11:05 AM on June 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's not a novel but my exploration of the canon of writing about the tech world would also have to include Steven Levy's Hackers, which I got hold of as a kid shortly after getting my first computer and learned AppleSoft BASIC, and was this portal to another place and time where I could be of use to the world while having fun, which was incredibly important to me.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:05 AM on June 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


I was so, so into Microserfs and all of Coupland's books back then. (He started to lose me around "Miss Wyoming.")

I went to his book tour signing here in Chicago. He played a short film based around an interview with him, called "Close Personal Friend." The title came from an observation he made that I don't fully remember, but it was something about celebrity and pop culture, and the way the columnists would write things like "Halston threw a party last night at Studio 54 for a few hundred of his close personal friends." Then, for signing people's books, Coupland had made a rubber stamp that said "To my close personal friend: ___________."

I was (I think) the only person at the signing who'd brought all of his books. (Generation X, Shampoo Planet, Life After God, and Microserfs.) He was kind of gleeful about that. And after signing my books, he looked up at me somewhat impishly, took the rubber stamp, stamped my forehead with it, then signed my forehead.

It's still one of my favorite things that's ever happened to me. In retrospect, had I know then or picked up on the fact that apparently he's gay, maybe that story could've had a much bigger ending.

Someone mentioned the "Microserfs moist towelettes" they handed out as promo swag. Not only do I still have a couple of those somewhere, but also at the signing Coupland gave out some Xerox-art prints he made of people and things from the history of personal computers. I've got a few of those - Steve Jobs, Wozniack, and a Texas Instruments calculator - each print embossed and initialed by Coupland. (Every now and then I think about framing the set of them.)
posted by dnash at 11:13 AM on June 22, 2015 [18 favorites]


I made a Microsoft employee badge for Peeve and taped it to the ball. I still have the badge.

So I know this isn't reddit, but that story is so good that I just have to ask for a picture of the badge and/or Peeve and keep this thread open until OP delivers.
posted by effbot at 11:19 AM on June 22, 2015 [4 favorites]




he looked up at me somewhat impishly, took the rubber stamp, stamped my forehead with it, then signed my forehead.

I brought my university yearbook and told him this was Amy's actual class. He was excited. He comments about all the dockers and/or khakis in the photo. Which I didn't think was actually true, but I wasn't about to quibble about our sartorial choices. I think he signed it.
posted by GuyZero at 11:25 AM on June 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


However, I think one of its spiritual antecedents was Soul Of A New Machine, which although not a work of fiction was nonetheless a far better novel than many novels. (Most apt recent thread with SOANM theme.) Very little of Microserfs has stuck with me to the same extent, although that could just be my incompatibility with the writing style.
posted by Devonian at 1:42 PM on June 22 [1 favorite +] [!]


I came here to say roughly this. My Dad made SOANM required reading for all of his employees (tech sector, telecommunications startup) and I eventually read it and learned a lot from it. Terrific book.
posted by Thistledown at 11:28 AM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


stephenson's the big u

We don't discuss it with outsiders.
posted by zippy at 11:32 AM on June 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


a lungful of dragon: " Crystal Pepsi Could Be Making a Comeback "

I hear that gum I like is also going to come back in style. It's the 90s all over again.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:34 AM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I WISH. A Clinton in the White House, a tech boom and my pants size THAT much lower? Sign me up!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:53 AM on June 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


I'd watch for the Bill (Bill!) flatland cameo...
posted by madajb at 12:03 PM on June 22, 2015


Maybe I should give the book another try.

I found it insufferable when it came out. I think it was because the premise of the book was that 'low-level' employees at Microsoft were at the bottom of the wrung, were the 'serfs'... But when the book came out, I was a perma-temp at Microsoft, working side-by-side with real employees that had health benefits, job security, etc... I'm not sure the book mentioned the armies of temps that did a ton of work at Microsoft, and it annoyed me enough where I couldn't get further than the first 1/4th of the book.
posted by el io at 12:06 PM on June 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I knew the book would be dated very quickly. Even the obsession with object-oriented programming was a misguided fixation of the mid-to-late-90s. C++ was the object-orientation equivalent of those tattoos people get when they think Chinese is an 'alphabet' and try to map their name letter-by-letter using wrong-headed sources. The whole period in programming was a horrifying sham of coders believing what marketing told them about OO. I slogged into it further than I ought, and the failure I set myself up for sent me into a real crisis.

But to me, the most charming thread in the book was the weight lifting character who was exploring political ideology, working from radical step to step in a graceful loop until someone interrupts him to point out that what he was describing this week was exactly what their investors believe. Perfect!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:28 PM on June 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was asked to post pictures of Peeve the gerbil of which I mentioned in the post above. I made a blog post on my blog that includes pictures of the badge and of Peeve. I also included this story:

Once a film crew was interviewing random employees for some company event that was coming up. They stopped to talk to me while I had Peeve on my shoulder. I told them I was the development lead for the new Microsoft mouse.
posted by Xoc at 12:34 PM on June 22, 2015 [21 favorites]


Soul of a New Machine is a fantastic book. While the specifics of the technology have changed dramatically, the process of making it seems almost exactly the same as today's processes. Stuff not working right, last-minute requests, resource issues, strange personal quirks...

Hmmm. I still have my hardback of Microserfs lurking upstairs somewhere, going to have to find where it's been hiding.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:43 PM on June 22, 2015


Flavorwire asks if there is a credible hacking novel earlier than "Neuromancer." The answer is a resounding yes. Any list that leaves out 1975's "The Shockwave Rider" by John Brunner is not complete.

Or indeed The Adolescence of P-1 (77), When HARLIE Was One (72), True Names (81) or A Logic Named Joe (46!).
posted by MartinWisse at 12:54 PM on June 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


I thought it seemed obvious that at the end of Microserfs they should have discovered that Bill Gates had stolen their idea and was producing a bloated but free version for Windows.
posted by Segundus at 12:54 PM on June 22, 2015


I read it first when it came out in Wired, when a lot of my internet friends were heading out west, and it definitely fed into my sense of the tech world as a kind of magical promised land. Read the book version five years later when working for the shortlived startup that I got hired into when I did move to the SF Bay Area, and it seemed even more apropos. Not so much for technical accuracy, but the characters were the sort of people I knew and liked. Wonderfully strange and neat geeks.

I still have that copy, because the startup collapsed before I could return it to my co-worker -- the FBI arrested our CEO in the middle of the office for stock fraud. I should read it again, and see how it stands up.
posted by tavella at 12:56 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Microserfs hit the zeitgeist hard, just at that point where the internet had become familiar enough and big enough to no longer be seen as science fiction, but it was still cool and geeky and cultish and a lifestyle rather than just part of everyday life. Being online, being on the computer was still a discrete activity for most people, even those who earned their living from them, not something completely integrated to the point of invisibility in your daily life as it is now.

Microserfs was our novel, those twentysomething geeks that had just started uni or worked in tech, a pointer towards our futures even if it was about the enemy. One of the bibles of the burgeoing internet generation, with Wired and Homesteading on the Cyberfrontier and The Hacker Crackdown and Snowcrash, if not so much Neuromancer anymore because that was embarrassingly dated then.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:58 PM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Analogues of the programmable block builder game Oop! from Microserfs have been around for much longer than Minecraft. ZZT is probably closer to the novel's description, as it has a more-or-less object-oriented scripting language where one object is one block in the game world, and it actually existed when the book came out.
posted by LogicalDash at 1:00 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I find it funny that when I read the book version first, the virtual legos being a big hit seemed the least convincing part of the book. It just didn't seem exciting enough compared to the MMORPGs that were just coming out at the time. Post-Minecraft, I suspect it will look much more foresighted!
posted by tavella at 1:03 PM on June 22, 2015


aww, c'mon, lot 49 captured a lot of the silicon valley sentiment pre-PC/software.

Not entirely related, but there was up until very recently a midcentury modern furniture store in Oakland called Lot 49. Seemed like kind of an odd reference to me.
posted by asterix at 1:26 PM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not entirely related, but there was up until very recently a midcentury modern furniture store in Oakland called Lot 49. Seemed like kind of an odd reference to me.

I think that's a pretty clever dog-whistle to their potential clientele. Folks who understand it will be very pleased with themselves for getting the reference, and will think more highly of the store as a result. I suspect the overlap between consumers of midcentury modern and readers of Pynchon is not insignificant.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:50 PM on June 22, 2015


On the other hand, my Pynchon-titled clothing line for plus-size members of the LGBT community was spectacularly unsuccessful, so you never know.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:55 PM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Though now in retrospect, the password hellojed is abysmal infosec and Taylor Swift would not be pleased.

well, crap
posted by hellojed at 1:56 PM on June 22, 2015 [14 favorites]


What kind of monster spelled kewl with a second 'e' and what happened to them to make them so deranged?
posted by fedward at 1:58 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, my Pynchon-titled clothing line for plus-size members of the LGBT community was spectacularly unsuccessful, so you never know.

Only cuz magenta and green are so played out. Also, "Beyond the Zero" is clearly the better name for a pynchonian themed clothing boutique.
posted by Lorin at 2:17 PM on June 22, 2015


Pirates of Silicon Valley is still the ultimate look into the soul of the region.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:35 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


MartinWisse, I'm glad to learn that I'm not the only person to ever read and enjoy The Adolescence of P-1!
posted by wintermind at 2:54 PM on June 22, 2015


...those tattoos people get when they think Chinese is an 'alphabet' and try to map their name letter-by-letter using wrong-headed sources...

You gotta say, though, that some unintentional crazy zen poetry probably came out of that fad.
posted by ovvl at 3:35 PM on June 22, 2015


el io, I was also a permatemp when this book came out. I didn't really have much to regret for my time there, as I wouldn't have made it through the interview process (just not team enough) and whatever options I would have been offered would have not been worth all that much, I don't think...and cash money would have been lower.

Plus I have a real problem working crazy hours when I'm not getting O/T. I was a full-time "temp" there from '92-'97.
posted by maxwelton at 4:08 PM on June 22, 2015


I was in college when Wired published excerpts of Microserfs. The book (and in a different way, the magazine) played a pretty big role in opening my mind to the possibilities of working in software and technology, building new things alongside smart, interesting people—that it treated geeks with humanity, respect, and affection (as did "Real Genius") surely helped. After graduation I switched from science to engineering, first as a temp, then a freelancer, and then for a few formative and interesting years at startups before the bubble burst. To some degree the book is responsible for my career, and for many of my friendships. Thanks, Douglas Coupland!
posted by Songdog at 4:38 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Microserfs was significant in helping me realize that I didn't want to spend any more of my life helping other people (fail to) get rich, especially at the rate of a zillion hours per week. Destroying your youth and health for a software project should be a warning, not a goal.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:11 PM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Apocryphon: "Pirates of Silicon Valley is still the ultimate look into the soul of the region."

Or maybe instead The Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires? (youtube link)
posted by namewithoutwords at 5:48 PM on June 22, 2015



Flavorwire asks if there is a credible hacking novel earlier than "Neuromancer." The answer is a resounding yes. Any list that leaves out 1975's "The Shockwave Rider" by John Brunner is not complete.
Or indeed The Adolescence of P-1 (77), When HARLIE Was One (72), True Names (81) or A Logic Named Joe (46!).
Autofac by Philip K. Dick (1955). It's about cracking a system, but it's also an amazing tale about debugging by a guy who had probably never seen a computer.
posted by ignignokt at 6:17 PM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just wish "Generation X" was in print, or even on the Kindle.

Coupland's books had a real open-hearted emotional quality, which I really liked. Either he changed or I grew out of it or both.

I can't remember when or why I stopped reading his stuff, but he had quite a few that I really enjoyed in my 20s. "Generation X", "Shampoo Planet", "Life After God"...I bought these books many times, because I kept giving my copies to other people. Would that I still had one of those neon-covered "Generation X" originals.
posted by Jinsai at 6:19 PM on June 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


I forget the author, but there is a great 70's tech book about hacking roulette for fun and profit. It's called Eudaemonic Pie I think.

I just started HCF tonight, funny thing that.
posted by butterstick at 7:07 PM on June 22, 2015


I have an autographed copy of Microserfs. I had gone to meet the author at a reading at a bookstore in Rockville or Bethesda. Douglas Coupland then was using a big rubber stamp that said "To my dear and close personal friend __________" I told him I was working on a first novel, did he have any advice? He looked me up and down, and said "Wait a year." I was so stunned by this, I made him repeat it. I have to say, I was somewhat crushed by this. Somehow, I let it get to me, and I didn't get back to writing for about a decade. Shame on me.
posted by newdaddy at 10:13 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I was working late at night, I'd put the gerbil, named "Peeve", in a ball and let him wander the halls. When a security guard kept bring the ball back to my office, I made a Microsoft employee badge for Peeve and taped it to the ball. I still have the badge.

My friends dad, whose house i lived in for a while, had a ton of stories like this about early-90s microsoft.

He slowly filled his office with those plasma lightning discs, starfield projectors, kaleidoscope projectors, and just a ton of light up tripper-toy things until it was basically chocked with them any direction you looked. Whenever he had to step out for any reason, he'd just switch them all on and leave the door open to confuse the hell out of everyone. I think there might have even been a smoke machine.

It almost made it sound like a silly fun place to work, even though i know it probably wasn't.
posted by emptythought at 3:35 AM on June 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


He slowly filled his office

Which is the point where pretty much all software people in this thread go "he had an office?".
posted by effbot at 4:34 AM on June 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


djugoczaj you nailed it for me. Not a tech; not a biz; but the characters. That he decided he loved Barcode no matter what Barcode ended up being. The lonliness of their investor having to ask for help with his cancer. The end...which I don't even have to read, I'm misting up now. I'm so glad I don't know enough about how outdated it is to ruin that for me.
posted by umberto at 6:53 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I will have to check out _Halt And Catch Fire_, though. I hadn't even heard of it; it sounds like it has female characters who are there as something other than a prize or a cliche. I said a big fuck you to both _Silicon Valley_ and _Betas_ once I got a look at the posters. One had zero female characters, the other had one... draped over the shoulder of a man.
posted by tavella at 12:16 PM on June 23, 2015


There's a sex scene in the cold open of the first episode of Halt and Catch Fire that has annoyed more than one woman developer friend of mine off the show completely, but it remarkably does get better.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:11 PM on June 23, 2015


For what it's worth, silicon valley does have a good woman developer character who comes in later and trolls the shit out of the guys. They interact/react to her in totally reddit nerd ways and she completely shuts them down, and it also makes a point of roasting several shitty ways nerdy dudes treat women

I don't like halt and catch fire though. I powered further in to it, and i just hate how they handled his wife. She's like Skyler from breaking bad written by a hateful nerd who didn't understand Skyler at all, or something. I don't know, she just seemed like a "whiny wife" stereotype that you're supposed to roll your eyes at or something and it was offputting.
posted by emptythought at 2:39 PM on June 23, 2015


I don't know, she just seemed like a "whiny wife" stereotype that you're supposed to roll your eyes at or something and it was offputting.

How far into the run did you watch?
posted by drezdn at 3:45 PM on June 23, 2015


Douglas Coupland: "Close Personal Friend"

(short film/interview with him, from 1995, shown at his book tour for Microserfs - as I mentioned above.)

"I remember back in the 1970s, about the same time that people stopped 'having lives,' they also began making fun of intimacy, and they made jokes about people like Halston having parties at Studio 54 for his 500 close personal friends. And so I guess the whole world's Studio 54 now. It's just 'you and me, babe,' and billions and billions of other people out there just like you - billions of close personal friends."
posted by dnash at 10:00 PM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't like halt and catch fire though. I powered further in to it, and i just hate how they handled his wife.

Donna is pretty much the best character on the show because she's sympathetic and balanced and I dunno if she's playing into some sort of '80s ideal of women but she's both a brilliant engineer careerwoman and able to hold her family together as a mother while her husband digs holes in the ground so yeah I disagree
posted by Apocryphon at 11:32 AM on June 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thanks to this thread I went and read Microserfs for the first time. As a Seattle tech worker it feels like a historical document and helped me understand where a lot of the culture here is coming from. I also thought he captured the climate of the PNW really well, the pervasive dampness, the house with the untreated wood deck that was rotted away, I almost lived in that place!

I didn't find the book to be naive as TFA does, maybe the characters are naive with their 90s technofuturistic optimism, but the book itself is not. Or maybe I'm just projecting my 2015 cynicism onto it.

Now on to jPod!
posted by Joe Chip at 6:56 AM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


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