3 books from Chris Noessel

18.55, Tuesday 23 Jun 2020 Link to this post

One of my favourite projects over the past few years has been 3 Books Weekly in which I asked friends and people I admire: hey, so what three books should I read this year?

It was an email newsletter and all 29 editions are archived here.

It’s a great question to ask. The three books aren’t supposed to be your desert island books. Or the showing-off books that tell everyone how clever you are. A good strategy is to have a conversation that gets you somewhere interesting, and then take the question literally… so, what three books should I read to learn more about this?

What happens is you get (a) a good reading list and, mainly (b), to see what makes them tick.

All of which is to say: it’s time to bring it back. Not weekly. But, you know, as an infrequent format. Let’s see what happens.


So Chris Noessel - among many other things - is behind the blog Sci-Fi Interfaces which digs into the interaction design of computer interfaces in movies.

FILE UNDER: artificial intelligence, narrative design fiction, networked matter, architecture.

Hey, Chris. What keeps you busy?

Certainly ramping up to be a daycare and homeschooler during the pandemic has been a challenge, especially considering that my day job of designing an AI assistant for Supply Chains at IBM has also ramped up in importance and workload as well. With the time that’s left, I’m still doing my damndest to keep a post coming every two weeks for the scifiinterfaces.com blog, working on new books, and even trying my hand at short fiction. It is a busy, busy time.

Read on for Chris’ three books…

#1. The Djinn Falls in Love

I’ve been thinking about genies/djinni as metaphors for artificial intelligence for a while, searching out mythologies and modern re-imaginings as a springboard. One such search led me to the collection “The Djinn Falls in Love.” There are many cool tales within, but I particularly recommend the soaring poetic language skills of Maria Dahvana Headley, whose short story “Black Powder” is my favorite in the collection.

The Djinn Falls in Love: Google Books

#2 An Aura of Familiarity

Over the past several years I’ve been interested in sci-fi that has been commissioned to address issues (rather than relying on the interests of the author or of the entertainment value of the topic). The subgenre is kind of design fiction, but clearly narrative in nature. Maybe we can call it commfic? Anyway, one of my favorite of these collections is the Institute for the Future’s “An Aura of Familiarity.” Such beloved authors: Doctorow! Rucker! Ashby! Sterling! And such a rich topic: Networked matter. Madeline Ashby’s “Social Services,” in particular, has stayed with me since I read it in 2013.

An Aura of Familiarity: Visions from the Coming Age of Networked Matter: Institute for the Future (pdf)

#3. A Pattern Language: Towns, Building, Construction

I know a lot of people know about Christopher Alexander’s pattern language, but I don’t know that many people who have read it. And I don’t mean “The Timeless Way of Building,” where they introduce the philosophy and the ideas, or “The Oregon Experiment,” where they share how the language played out in a design project, but actually “A Pattern Language” itself: pattern to pattern, cover to cover. When I did, it opened my eyes to architecture of course, but more importantly, how to think systemically about complex design systems across scales, how to manifest these thoughts to clarify your own thinking, and how to document them so they are usable within a community of practice. None of the laudable attempts to formalize a pattern language for interaction design have “made it big,” but I still think it’s the best way to think about design practice, and this is the source material. I recommend every designer read it.

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, Christopher Alexander: Google Books

Genies! Thank you Chris :)

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