If you’re a programmer or gamer type, Hello World is a book you’ll enjoy. One might be tempted to say that Hello World is a poor man’s Neal Stephenson novel, but that might connote some deficiency in the writing which does not exist. It’s only that this e-book is to be had for a pittance on Amazon. While the writing and the subject matter does have a more than passing similarity to what you’ll find in Snow Crash, Diamond Age, or even Cryptonomicon, the story is not far future, it’s contemporaneous, and the plot is wholly original.
Hello World gets its name from the output of the first program in Kernighan and Ritchie’s landmark programming book, The C Programming Language. Since that time, it’s a tradition for all programming tutorials, regardless of the language, to start with a program* that when run, prints out,
Fortuna is clearly more than slightly conversant with geek lore and it shows in the unaffected way he weaves technology into Hello World. If you’re a programmer or gamer, you’re sure to appreciate his deft touch. Unlike Jeffrey Deaver’s attempt in The Blue Nowhere, there isn’t a single false note when it comes to describing the tech culture. From this standpoint alone, Hello World is sure to appeal to any Stephenson fan.
But, you don’t have to be a technologist to appreciate this book. Fortuna also does a great job with dialog. His characters have some pretty smart conversations about the nature of things. Here is an excerpt of a conversation between the villain and one of the protagonists, in which he attempts to get her to join him in his evil plot to release a paranoid self-aware bot onto the internet.
Businesses employ severe measures all the time. They fire hundreds of people. They force other business to go under. They pay for legislation. And they shortchange their own employees whenever possible. And those are the legitimate people. Then you have organized crime. They also understand that there are certain requirements that come into play when you need to guarantee the success of a venture. The idea is to remove uncertainty from the equation, because uncertainty carries with it the possibility of failure. To date, our software has been uniquely successful because we’ve been willing to do what it takes to guarantee success. We’ve established the standard in gaming, and thousands of people out there have risen to that standard. To move ahead we need to redefine the model. That means taking things literally out of the box. Off the screen. Off the keyboard. Beyond the mouse. Into the heads and hearts of the gamers themselves.
Aside from clever and believable dialog, there is a fair amount of tongue in cheek commentary tucked in as subtext in the convolutions of the plot. As one would expect, not all of Fortuna’s characters are likable, but they’re all pretty believable. Fortuna shows them for what they are and even provides a convincing back story for his villain. In depicting this character, Fortuna engages in some fairly unpleasant scenes where the villain and his psycho top-geek conduct sessions in which they try to concoct ever more awful torture scenarios. These conversations are difficult to read and leave mental pictures in the mind of the reader that this reviewer could have done without. But, it’s the difference between saying that such and such a character is a sicko, and giving the reader a glimpse into his mind.
Because of this, and frequent references to some of the more socially maladjusted characters pleasuring themselves (a la Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon), Hello World is not a book suitable for children or those with more delicate sensibilities.
Still, Hello World is an interesting book that gets better the farther one reads. The plot is not predicable and offers some surprising turns along the way. If you like Neal Stephenson’s books, buy Hello World.
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