What I’ve been reading in 2022

17.42, Friday 30 Dec 2022

Some books I read this year:

Social software

Dibbell’s My Tiny Life is from 1998 and about LambdaMOO, a super early multiplayer text environment. It’s all there: politics, sex, money, governance, abuse, doxxing. As clear a case study as we could get. I raved about it here.

In Computers as Theater (1991), Laurel suggests that we see the computer interface not as the conversational tit-for-tat of request and response, but as establishing common ground: mutual knowledge, mutual beliefs, and mutual assumptions.

And then:

Laurel suggests that we see the computer screen as a stage on which there are agents, some human and some software.

(Similarly raved about here.)

Both books were re-reads after a couple decades, and both are suddenly astoundingly relevant again in this age of fediverses and multiplayer metaverses. In my imaginary monograph on tools for togetherness, both are canonical texts.

Good words in fiction

Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton is so plain and so deft, not a word wasted, with poetic flourishes that are all the more vivid for their rarity: The surface of the lagoon rippled in pink crescents. The guy’s a virtuoso, I’d forgotten.

(Hey and remember, dinosaurs are the company’s second product.)

Nine Tailors – good old fashioned detective fiction. I haven’t read Dorothy Sayers in years and… well the first section is so ornate, so dense, all church bells and the landscape of the Fens, utterly transporting.

The Employees is delicate, poignant, ambiguous; a collage of fragments of first-person narrative from an uncertain future starship. I really liked this AND was vaguely dissatisfied - yet can’t stop thinking about it. Form: hypertext! Content: factory workers!

To Be Taught… oh Becky Chambers. I’ve been a space opera fan as long as I’ve been reading, and Chambers has the awe and the humanism that makes me want to live there. I now understand this genre is hopepunk - weaponised optimism - so that’s a trail I’ll have to follow.

The Art of the Publisher talks about the books coming out of a publishing house as a single work. Hypertext again.

The History of Magic is a history of the last 40,000 years. It’s the kind of book I love these days: very little TED-style framing, heavy on the information, draw your own conclusions. There is an overarching argument, of course, even if it sits lightly, which is that magic is a permanent strand of human culture alongside science and religion; and that magic, generally, provides cosmic kinship and a framework to ask “should we”… It’ll make more sense if you read it.

My favourite section: Shamanism and Magic on the Eurasian Steppe (c.4000 BCE–present) – animism and landscape, and a kind of deep bedrock to the euro/anglo psyche that I wouldn’t have noticed without having it drawn out.

It’s been a long time since I dogeared so many pages in a book.

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