Book Review : Geek Sublime: Writing Fiction, Coding Software by Vikram Chandra

Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty by Vikram Chandra
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Somewhat disappointing. This book comes across as a collection of rather rambling and chaotic musings on the author’s literary and software developer experiences.

With regard to his observations on the world of literature and fiction writing his reminicences and musings largely revolve around Indian cultural life and history, where he observes the juxtapositions of his experiences between his Indian upbringing and that of American life and culture. Whilst I’m sure much of this will resonate with individuals with a similar background, it will mean little to the average westerner and European like myself.

As a software developer myself I found many of his reflections on the software development process pithy and insightful. I, like the author, do find an inner beauty and joy in coding software. However I was left wanting more on this topic, as I’d say about 60-70% of the book is biased towards the author’s career as a fiction writer and only 30-40% as a software developer.

Given the title of this book and the blurb on the back cover I expected more musings on the beauty and aesthetics of code and software development, but I was left disappointed.

However, I do agree with the wonderful sentiment quoted on the books cover …

Making software gave me a little jolt of joy each time a piece of code worked … the world fell away, my body vanished, time receded … You can slam this pleasure spike into your veins again and again, and you want more, and more, and more.

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Book Synopsis

‘Official’ Book Description

A great novelist on his twin obsessions: writing and coding. What is the relationship between the two? Is there such a thing as the sublime in code? Can we ascribe beauty to the craft of coding?

Vikram Chandra is the award-winning author of two acclaimed novels and a collection of short stories – and has been a computer programmer for almost as long as he has been a writer. In his extraordinary new book he looks at the connection between these two worlds of art and technology. Coders are obsessed with elegance and style, just as writers are, but do the words mean the same thing to both? And is it a coincidence that Chandra is drawn to two seemingly opposing ways of thinking?

Exploring these questions, Chandra creates an idiosyncratic history of coding – exploring such varied topics as logic gates and literary modernism, the male machismo of geeks, the striking presence of an ‘Indian Mafia’ in Silicon Valley, and the writings of Abhinavagupta, the 10th – 11th century Kashmiri thinker. Part technology story and part memoir, Geek Sublime is a book of sweeping ideas. It is a heady and utterly original work.