These are all available to me as e-books through my library, so I’ve made them my summer indulgence reading. In the third installment of the series, the stakes and world of these stories has expanded a bit. On the one hand, I find the engagement with French colonial history in Vietnam and contemporary global economic and political pressures compelling. On the other, I hope the dynamics of the small village atmosphere won’t be disappearing.
This is the fourth installment of the Bruno, Chief of Police series. It is another case of issues of the wider world disrupting village life—international students, Basque separatists, and an international diplomatic summit all feature prominently in the plot—but most of the action feels small in the way that I appreciate about this series. There is a bit of James Bond action at the end that I could do without.
The fifth installment of the Bruno, Chief of Police series shrinks things back down to the village scale, but brings in the occult as the special angle for this episode. You can feel the series settling into the tropes that work. The cast of characters from around the village get reliable face time and play their parts. Bruno’s cooking and interest in food are now familiar. The action stakes continue to be higher than in the earliest installments of the series, but somehow not as elevated as the ending that turned me off a bit in the fourth book. This will continue to be summer reading, and next week I’ll be doing my summer reading in the French Alps.
Thompson has written an ethnography of computer programmers that is very much of this moment. In contrast to, for example, Steven Levy’s Hackers which is now over thirty years old, there is very little celebration or hagiography here. At the same time, it is not a sensational teardown of Silicon Valley culture either. It is more a lamentation of how the participants in the utopian spirit of the 90’s failed to anticipate the pitfalls of what they were creating as a result of the culture created in the spaces (offline and online) where these coders gathered and by the epistemologies that coding practice maps onto the perspective one brings into other parts of life. In this sense, it reminds me of Paul Ford’s recent essay in WIRED about his struggle to remain enthusiastic about the tech industry in its hegemonic phase. The book finishes in an exploration of how the vocation of coding is changing—both (fitfully) expanding its ranks but also losing some of its prestige. As it becomes a trade that can secure a position in the middle class, how do we guarantee generalized access? It seems apparent that some of the same bad instincts shape the ‘solutions’ to these problem as have shaped previous eras.
This book lies somewhere between memoir and essay collection and explores both Auerbach’s personal relationship to technology and some cultural history of our relationship to data and algorithmic problem solving in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. The idiosyncratic form of the memoir allows Auerbach to make personal juxtapositions between, for example, psychiatric profiles developed in the context of the DSM and character designs and storytelling based on the quantification tables of the Dungeons & Dragons rules set.
This was a fun episodic adventure set in the medieval Khazar Khaganate between the Black and Caspian Seas in which two bandits, a Frankish physician and an Abyssinian soldier, become involved in a revenge plot to overthrow a local lord. It was originally published serially in The New York Times Magazine and that format suits its swashbuckling rhythm well. Chabon has clearly read broadly in romantic adventures, and I enjoyed the confidence with which a writer in such control of his tools engaged with the tropes of the genre.