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  • Brian Boone 2:00 pm on 2019/02/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , imaginary music, , juliet naked, , neal stephenson, , , show crash, the crying of lot 49, the ground beneath her feet,   

    Fictional Musicians From Novels That We Wish Were Real 

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    You can’t read music. Okay, maybe you can read music, in the sense that you can look at sheet music or a score and your use your brain to translate that into what the song would sound like if played on instruments. But you can’t read music—as in, you can’t write about a band and fully express to the reader exactly what that band’s sound is like. It’s like that famous quote, attributed to everyone from Steve Martin to Elvis Costello—writing about music is like dancing about architecture.

    But still, dozens of novelists have peppered their prose with rock bands and singers, musicians who figure prominently in the plot and whose music is described either in passing or in great detail. These musicians are fictional, and so is their music, so it’s up to the theater (or radio) of the mind to imagine what those bands happen to sound like. Some seem so fantastic (or compelling in some way) that we wish they’d jump off the page and rock us until our heads explode.

    The Paranoids, from The Crying of Lot 49
    Like most Thomas Pynchon novels, The Crying of Lot 49 is often baffling and inscrutable, but not so much the parts that are explicitly about rock music. Those bits are among the most wacky things Pynchon ever did, approaching Weird Al levels of straightforward, easy-to-digest parody. Central to this is the Paranoids, a band matched only by Oasis in its Beatles-ness. Like the Fab Four, they get heavy into drugs and play songs everybody digs. (Unlike the Beatles, they’re American…but speak in English accents anyway.) However, it’s another band in the novel, Sick Dick and the Volkswagens, responsible for the greatest unheard Beatles rip-off of all time: “I Want to Kiss Your Feet,” an obvious send-up of “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

    Tucker Crowe, from Juliet, Naked
    Nick Hornby writes about music so well, particularly in High Fidelity, and Juliet, Naked, which is really a novel about the pathological ownership fans take over the art they love. The impact of the story would actually be diminished if we could hear the songs recorded by reclusive, brilliant singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe, either his classic album, Juliet, or the sparse demos, Juliet, Naked. The novel tells the tale of Duncan, a Crowe superfan who gets awfully miffed when the object of his obsession strikes up a friendship with Annie, his girlfriend…who wrote the only online review of Juliet, Naked that isn’t full of fawning praise. Is Tucker Crowe as good as Duncan thinks? Or is he as adequate as Annie claims?

    VTO, from The Ground Beneath Her Feet
    It’s unfortunate that Salman Rushdie is most widely known for The Satanic Verses, a novel that led to a fatwa on his head, because he’s one of our most gifted, idiosyncratic, and varied, contemporary writers. His writing is so surreal at times that it becomes insightfully real, exemplified by The Ground Beneath Her Feet. It’s the story of a rock band, but not a real rock band, and one that also inserts a great deal of fevered mythology (it’s based on the myths of Orpheus and Eurydice). Indian group VTO is the Beatles of this alternate universe of Rushdie’s creation, the most famous and most successful band in the world, probably because their frontman is the unbelievably powerful Ormus, whose style combines nods to real-life stars like John Lennon, Elvis Presley, and Freddie Mercury.

    Vitaly Chernobyl and the Meltdowns, from Snow Crash
    In his 1992 cyberpunk classic, author Neal Stephenson envisions a world where society, governments, and currencies have collapsed and corporations have taken control in the subsequent power vacuum. The declining importance of borders creates a pleasing blurring of musical forms, such as the “Ukrainian nuclear fuzz-grunge” perpetuated by a spiky-haired L.A. punk who calls himself Vitaly Chernobyl. That would suggest that songs like “My Heart is a Smoking Hole in the Ground” might sound like a chaotic combination of Nirvana, Daft Punk, and John Coltrane.

    Löded Diper, from Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
    A recurring presence in Jeff Kinney’s monstrously popular Diary of Wimpy Kid series, Löded Diper is the garage band fronted by Rodrick Hefley, odious, obnoxious older brother of wimpy diarist Greg. Diary of a Wimpy Kid has been going since the 2000s, long after the kind of aggro, head-banging, Quiet Riot-esque hard rock that is the provenance of Löded Diper fell out of favor, but it serves to show just how off-putting Rodrick can be. What’s more “big brothery” than a big brother’s terrible, guitar-ruining heavy metal band waking up the neighbors? Besides, Löded Diper know what it takes to rock: merciless noise, black T-shirts, scowls, a van, and, of course umlauts.


    What fictional band do you wish were real?

    The post Fictional Musicians From Novels That We Wish Were Real appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Brian Boone 2:00 pm on 2017/08/07 Permalink
    Tags: alison lurie, casey lewis, , , dorm room essentials cookbook, , ethan trex, , , foreign affairs, free stuff guide for everyone, gina meyers, goodnight dorm room: all the advice I wish i got before going to college, harlan cohen, keith riegert, kingsley amix, knack dorm living, , , neal stephenson, on beauty, peter sander, , samuel kaplan, school daze, scott dikkers, , streeter seidell, the big u, the college humor guide to college, the idiot, the naked roommate, the pretty good jim's journal treasury, , , , ,   

    These 20 Books Are Absolute Dorm Room Essentials 

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    So you’re headed off to college in the fall. Congratulations! It’s going to be both a lot of work and a tremendous karmic shift! You’ll be on your own, and also living in a very small dormitory room with a person who is, in all likelihood, a complete stranger. Regardless, books are both an escape and an olive branch—the books you’ll need to best understand, appreciate, and enhance the college-going experience.

    The Pretty Good Jim’s Journal Treasury, by Scott Dikkers
    Everyone who went to college remembers it as an exciting time of self-discovery, new friendships, and working really, really hard. We tend to forget about all of the downtime and boredom of college—class is only a few hours a day, after all. This is where the droll comic strip collection by Scott Dikkers, a founder of The Onion, traffics—a guy named Jim does all the boring, mundane stuff one does in college. Much of Dikkers’ “Jim’s Journal” (which ran in lots of college newspapers in the ’90s) concerned the protagonist’s low-stakes experience with higher education.

    Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis
    Countless authors, past and present, have also been college professors and academics. And as the old adage goes, you write what you know. The result is the subgenre of the campus novel, which details the unique experience of being in college, either for a few years or forever, including its unique politics, quirks, challenges, and maddening hypocrisies. Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, published in 1954, is among the first major campus novels, and it’s a rightful classic of the genre, detailing the wryly humorous life of an academic who becomes a lecturer at an English university despite not really wanting the job.

    The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
    There are certain things in Donna Tartt’s breakout novel that are universal college experiences: arguing with professors to allow you to take their classes, finding your tribe of like-minded individuals, and looking up to the most charismatic students on campus.

    White Noise, by Don DeLillo
    Don DeLillo’s classic novel is told through the eyes of a contented professor and patriarch of a large, blended, technology-addicted family who leads a small northeastern college’s Hitler Studies program. While the themes of the novel deal with the omnipresence of chemicals in our food, air, and bodies, DeLillo also nails the day-to-day of college life, as well as how it feels to live in a university town, particularly how it’s both charmingly unchanging and always exciting due to the constant influx and outflux of new students and teachers.

    Free Stuff Guide for Everyone, by Peter Sander
    Almost everyone in college is poor. Tuition, books, and living expenses cost a lot of money, and 18-year-olds don’t have much of that, because they lack earning power due to being 18, not-yet-college-educated, and having to spend the majority of their time going to class and studying. To make it through with your health and happiness intact, you’re going to have to get a little scrappy and a little shameless and seek out deals and bargains wherever you can. A book like this one will clue you in to all sorts of free and discounted necessary items.

    Goodnight Dorm Room: All the Advice I Wish I Got Before Going to College, by Samuel Kaplan and Keith Riegert
    Not a parody of Goodnight, Moon, likely because the book Goodnight, Moon is larger than the average dorm room. Rather, this is a swift and funny advice guide to everything “they” won’t tell you about going to college. And it’s important stuff, too, from how to exploit the goodwill of TAs who want you to succeed, to what stuff you should definitely and not definitely bring with you to fill out your tiny, tiny dorm room.

    Dorm Room Essentials Cookbook, by Gina Meyers
    Man or woman cannot survive on cafeteria food and ramen alone. Also, most college dorms don’t allow hotplates. But you’ve gotta eat, and eat well, so you’ve got to get creative. This cookbook shows you how to use the tools at hand and affordable ingredients to prepare all kinds of snacks, meals, and desserts.

    Knack Dorm Living: Get the Room—and the Experience—You Want at College, by Casey Lewis
    That dorm room is small, but this book just might be a good investment of both limited space and money. Written by Lewis when she was a seen-it-all-in-college, done-it-all-in-college college senior, it’s full of easy-to-follow and crucial tips on what to take to college, what to buy when you get there, and how to effectively and efficiently organize what little time, space, and money you’ve got.

    The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College, by Harlan Cohen
    Not only are dorm rooms small, but they have to be shared with another person, who could not only be a stranger, but also literally quite strange. (Hence the title.) Cohen’s book offers pre-emptive advice on all sorts of challenges a naive, inexperienced-to-the-ways-of-the-world college freshman may experience, such as the times when it’s okay to shoot for a C, how to find a campus job, and how to navigate both long-term relationships and more “temporary” ones.

    The College Humor Guide to College, by Ethan Trex and Streeter Seidell
    Nobody these days does college humor better than, uh, College Humor. The comedy website publishes all manner of silly videos and ridiculous articles about the absurd notion of being a young person alive in the world, feeling their way around with almost zero preparation. In many ways, this droll parody of college prep books feels a lot more realistic than the real ones do. This is a good one to have in college if only as a way to share it with others and knowingly laugh at the relatable parts.

    A guidebook about the city where the college is located
    For many, college is the first time to be out there on one’s own. It’s tempting and perfectly acceptable to just kick around campus and the surrounding neighborhoods—there’s certainly plenty for freshmen to do and explore. Or, you can mingle with the townies and check out a bit more of the area that surrounds the college. Getting out there and trying new things is what college is all about, but with a safety net, which is what a guidebook about that college town totally is. It’s a guidebook to fun and adventure!

    Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
    College isn’t all partying and making new BFFs. At least not for everybody. This marvelous novel by the author of Eleanor & Park is about the difficult segue from teenhood to college life. It’s about a University of Nebraska freshman named Cath with social anxiety disorder, which precludes a social butterfly life and encourages her to stay at home writing fan fiction about a boy wizard…until she realizes that college is the best place to exercise and hone her writing skills.

    On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
    Having a Zadie Smith book on your dorm room’s sole shelf is a great conversation starter, and it’s a clue to others about how cool you are, because you’ve read Zadie Smith. The novel itself is an enlightening look at college—it touches on sexual, identity, and class issues, as well as how professors aren’t always the sage geniuses one would assume they are. It’s also a college-level text, as On Beauty was inspired by the structure and some of the plot points of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End.

    Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon
    It’s set in Pittsburgh, as is usually the case with Chabon’s novels, which is a beautiful and perfect college town. That’s just one of the blessings protagonist Grady Tripp takes for granted. He’s essentially a lost college freshman, but all grown up: He’s an established writer and college professor, he smokes too much marijuana, is having relationship trouble, he’s got writer’s block so bad he can’t finish his next book, and he’s just a little bit jealous of the young talent coming up behind him. Chabon’s prose is crackling, and he’s a great place to start in the world of “grown-up” fiction.

    Joe College, by Tom Perrotta
    Ah, the joys of working your way through college. In this dark and yet surprisingly optimistic book from the author of Election and The Leftovers, a Yale student named Danny doesn’t get to go on a debauched Spring Break trip with his friends: He’s stuck driving his dad’s lunch truck in New Jersey. That’s a plot device to get the reader into Danny’s head, where lots of college issues humorously and dramatically wrestle for attention.

    Foreign Affairs, by Alison Lurie
    Time for the semester abroad! Well, at least it is for the two American professors at the heart of this charming, Pulitzer Prize winning campus novel-meets-fish-out-water tale. Vinnie leaves his Ivy League environs to study playground rhymes and winds up in a family tree-tracing project. Fred, meanwhile, abandons his studies of English poetry to pal around with an esteemed actress.

    The Idiot, by Elif Batuman
    This almost stream-of-consciousness novel is told from the point-of-view of a Turkish-American freshman from New Jersey who is extremely happy to be away from her dull home life and attending the glorious Harvard University. This one shows how overwhelming college and all of its assorted social and academic entanglements can be. But, you know, in a good way.

    The Big U, by Neal Stephenson
    No matter how complicated and overwhelming college life gets, it could always be worse. This first novel from sci-fi icon Neal Stephenson demonstrates that. It’s about a Remote Sensing professor named Bud who works at American Megaversity, an eight-tower complex which pretty much makes the college a bubbled world unto itself. Hey, that’s like real college, only real college has way fewer electromagnetic weapons and radioactive rats.

    A second copy of what you’re currently reading
    Talk about an icebreaker. “Hey, what’s that you’re reading,” a roommate, hallmate, classmate, or random person in “the Quad” asks. You tell them, you show them, you lend them your copy because it’s so good. Boom, friends for life.

    A copy of your favorite book from childhood
    For when you’re homesick.

    What books should every college student read?

    The post These 20 Books Are Absolute Dorm Room Essentials appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 5:00 pm on 2017/05/23 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , i'm huge, james clavell, , , l.a. confidential, , neal stephenson, , pillars of the earth, reamde, shogun,   

    10 Doorstoppers that Aren’t Literary Mysteries 

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    The Doorstopper: though common in the fantasy genre, in literature these books—topping 600 pages or so, heavy to carry around, and difficult to read in bed—are sometimes more of an exercise in expansive character and thematic immersion than thrilling potboilers. Think War and Peace or Infinite Jest, rewarding literary tomes that make you work for it.

    That’s not always the case, though. The ten books on this list are huge, yes, but they’re far from the traditional definition of literary fiction—they’re exciting, thrilling, terrifying, and, yes, very, very long.

    Reamde, by Neal Stephenson
    Stephenson doesn’t seem to write anything that’s short and sweet these days, as all of his books written in the last 20 years are pretty much doorstoppers. 2011’s Reamde is in some ways the ideal Stephenson novel—long, detailed, and thrilling, telling a story that combines an online virtual world, gold farming, and real-life murder and kidnapping that make you forget just how long a book it is.

    Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
    Follett’s famous pivot from straight-ahead spy thrillers to historical fiction is certainly heavy enough to break a toe if dropped on your foot, but there isn’t a dull moment in this ambitious story. You might learn that it chronicles the building of a cathedral in a town in England in the 12th century (during a period known as The Anarchy) and think it’s got to be a tedious literary affair—but far from it. It’s closer to Game of Thrones minus the dragons, and thrilling stuff..

    The Crow Girl, by Erik Axl Sund
    Creepy and disturbing, this huge novel gets under your skin and ruins your sleep. In modern-day Stockholm, detective Jeanette Kihlberg investigates the murder of a young boy who was horribly abused and disfigured. Jeanette works—and flirts—with child psychologist Sofia Zetterlund, who is not exactly what she seems. It’s dark, it’s violent, and not once does it feel like a doorstopper.

    Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa
    Translated from the Japanese, this novel, based on the life of the very real and very awesome Miyamoto Musashi, is not so much a biography as a samurai epic. Musashi lived in the 17th century and first mastered, and then revolutionized, the art of fighting with swords, becoming the most famous swordmaster in Japanese history. His life story makes for an exciting tale of adventure and swordplay, two things that are almost never boring.

    The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
    Dumas was paid by the word for this serialized novel, and he made hay with that arrangement. Despite its length, there’s not a single bit of this classic adventure novel you want to cut (though there are various abridged editions out there, you owe it to yourself to read the whole thing), and it remains an exciting tale everyone should read at least once in their lives, the story of a man who is falsely accused and imprisoned, only to escapes, find a fortune, and return under an assumed identity to exact his monstrous revenge.

    L.A. Confidential, by James Ellroy
    Ellroy is well-known for lengthy novels that perfectly straddles the line between pulp and literary, offering up dense, lush noir streaked with blood and black violence. L.A. Confidential may be his greatest achievement, combining deft character work with a bleak view of society and the people who populate it as it traces the complicated threads of corruption stemming from the investigation of a bloody massacre in 1950s Los Angeles.

    Flood Tide, by Clive Cussler
    Cussler’s novels are brisk adventure stories that combine well-researched historical detail with fanciful modern touches—and regular cameos by Cussler himself. That has never stopped him from writing some pretty lengthy novels, and Flood Tide—the 14th Dirk Pitt adventure—may be his longest. Trust us, you’ll never notice.

    Orient, by Christopher Bollen
    A young man arrives in the small town of Orient Point on Long Island, where the money and glamor that has afflicted areas like the Hamptons has just begun to encroach on the old way of life. When a series of killings shock the tight-knit community, it’s easy to point a finger the stranger in town—but no one in Orient Point lacks for dark secrets. While some have called this one “literary”, it doesn’t lack for suspense or lurid thrills—both of which keep it humming along, despite its length.

    Night Film , by Marisha Pessl
    Terrifying and disturbing, Pessl’s long literary horror novel plays with your mind in ways both fair and unfair. A troubled, disgraced journalist begins investigating the death of an underground filmmaker’s brilliant daughter and falls down a rabbit hole of corruption and possible black magic. You’re never quite sure what’s actually happening—or what’s coming next—meaning the book is over in a blink, despite being thick enough to hurt someone.

    Shōgun, by James Clavell
    Clavell’s classic is another one that welcomes comparisons to Game of Thrones, except set in the real world, in an 17th century Japan boiling with politics, violence, lust, and sword fights. Thirty years after it was originally published, it remains an incredibly popular book—and a fast, thrilling read for every one of its more than 1,000 pages. The story is wonderfully complicated, but Clavell’s prose never leaves you in doubt as to each character’s motivations and loyalties (if any) as he pulls you into a sweeping, romanticized epic of the past.


    The post 10 Doorstoppers that Aren’t Literary Mysteries appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Diana Biller 8:30 pm on 2016/03/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , david auburn, , , mmm... pi, neal stephenson, proof, rebecca goldstein, the mind-body problem   

    In Honor of Pi Day, 6 Great Novels for Math Nerds 

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    Today is Pi Day (or, as the Internet has dubbed this year’s occurrence, Rounded Pi Day), which means it’s the perfect time to celebrate the long tradition of books inspired by mathematics, and also to ask the important question: are mathematicians really as tortured as writers like to think they are? Because…yikes. Here are six genre-spanning books that promise to please even the most math-obsessed.

    A Doubter’s Almanac, by Ethan Canin
    This bestselling novel from the critically beloved author of America America spans 70 years in the life of mathematical genius Milo Andret, from his childhood, to his academic superstardom, to the scars he leaves on his son, Hans, a genius in his own right. Canin deftly interweaves mathematics, family, addiction, grief, and love to produce an elegant, powerfully written novel that brings the reader into a fraught world of genius and struggle.

    Proof, by David Auburn
    Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece follows Catherine, a brilliant young woman who has spent the last several years caring for her math genius father, who is suffering from mental illness. Picking up a week after his death, the play deals with Catherine’s own struggle to define the line between brilliance and madness as she navigates the loss of her father and a tentative, difficult new romance. Proof won the Tony Award in 2001 and was turned into a movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, and Jake Gyllenhaal.

    An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
    This charming young adult novel, about a teenage prodigy who tries to prove a theorem that will predict the ultimate end of any relationship, is stuffed to the brim with surprisingly accurate math. Green, who declares he “sucks” at math while still being really into it, actually consulted with a mathematician friend as he wrote the book, and there’s an appendix filled with graphs and equations at the end. Funny, smart, and tender, An Abundance of Katherines is a great read for math lovers young and old.

    Flowers from the Storm, by Laura Kinsale
    Laura Kinsale’s beloved romance about a mathematician who suffers a debilitating stroke and the Quaker woman he falls in love with appears with astonishing frequency on “best of romance” lists, and for good reason. Weaving together linguistics, math, disability, and religion alongside the main love story, Kinsale’s novel is intensely absorbing, poignant, and even funny.

    Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
    It was hard to pick which Neal Stephenson novel deserves to represent his work on this list, and if I’m honest, Cryptonomicon probably edged out the competition because I’ve always liked the title, so, you know, check out Anathem too. Starting in the 1940s with a mathematician who becomes a cryptoanalyst for the Allies (and hangs out with Alan Turing along the way), and moving on to the life of his grandson, a computer genius in the present day, Cryptonomicon is an exciting and challenging technological adventure.

    The Mind-Body Problem, by Rebecca Goldstein
    Goldstein’s first novel was a runaway hit when it was published more than 30 years ago, and it’s still easy to see why. The hysterically funny story of a young philosophy graduate student who marries a famous mathematician and then finds herself struggling to balance the life of the mind with the life of the body, The Mind-Body Problem offers hilarious takes on academia, philosophy, genius, marriage, and family, and is a delightful and startlingly clever read.

  • Jeff Somers 5:00 pm on 2015/05/22 Permalink
    Tags: , , , kai bird, martin j. sherwin, , neal stephenson, , , ,   

    7 Books In Which Technology Goes Horribly Wrong 

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    Anyone who has suffered a computer crash that deletes seven years’ worth of emails, photos, and Word docs knows technology doesn’t always work as planned. Sometimes our GPS steers us into a lake, sometimes we butt-dial exes, and sometimes the machines attain sentience and rise up to exterminate us. That’s the risk we take in exchange for being able to order sushi from anywhere.

    Some of the best novels ever written are based on the idea that technology not only can but will go wrong—and they’re not all science fiction, either. Here are seven novels exploring what might happen when technology betrays us.

    Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton
    It’s a tale as old as time: Man figures out how to clone dinosaurs, dinosaurs turn around and eat man. The idea that there are things mankind was not meant to investigate is an ancient one, that has served as the basis for horror novels since time immemorial. Jurassic Park updates this concept of forbidden knowledge and the rotten fruits it yields with the slick idea of cloning dinosaurs from residual DNA traces—with predictably horrific results. If only people would stop thinking cloning is merely incredibly creepy and realize it could also knock us all down a notch on the food chain.

    The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
    An odd choice, you say? That’s because you’re not paying attention. Sure, for the most part Tolkien’s masterpiece doesn’t have much to do with technology—unless you consider Saruman and his despoliation of Isengard, which is couched in clear technophobic terms. In short, Saruman the Many-Colored leaves behind the wisdom and power of his fellow Istari and begins industrializing, raping Isengard of resources, cutting down trees, and embracing technology. And it’s this embrace that leads to his downfall, as it angers the Ents and in ways large and small causes the series of events leading to Saruman’s death. The moral of this bit of the story? Ensure no immortal tree beings live nearby when you decide to salt the earth in your backyard.

    The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy
    Sure, you could make the point that a nuclear submarine loaded with missiles and designed to be nearly invisible is actually working as intended when it comes very close to sparking World War III. But the genius of The Hunt for Red October is, in many ways, the fact that the technology at its center would not be nearly as “gone wrong” without the fears and desires of its human crew and the Americans trying to claim it. The motto of the book seems to be “nuclear submarines don’t kill people, people (in possession of nuclear submarines) kill people.”

    Reamde, by Neal Stephenson
    Software has given us so much: Angry Birds, cat videos, Britney Spears albums. So it’s easy to forget software isn’t magic, it’s technology, and technology that could so easily go wrong. In Reamde, Stephenson drops a computer virus into a virtual world and lets the ripples extend into the real one, leaving death, property damage, and awesome gunfights in its wake. Considering the story delves deeply into an imaginary massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that helps spread the virus, this is actually a case of two technologies gone wrong.

    Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
    The Entertainment is the ultimate betrayal. As Homer Simpson once said of television (and by implication, all entertainment), it’s our teacher, mother, and secret lover—so the idea of an entertainment so perfectly constructed people would gladly cut off their own fingers (or, if possible, someone else’s fingers) in order to watch it just once more cuts to the core of our streaming, downloading, and always-entertained society. If entertainment itself turns against us, we’re doomed.

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
    For a lot of people, the idea of immortality is exciting stuff. Except when it means you’re actually dead, and cancerous cells taken from your body without your consent live on forever as invaluable material for laboratories around the world. The story of the Lacks family’s pursuit of justice after discovering the ongoing use of Henrietta Lacks’ immortal cells is a stark reminder that even the technology we rely on to keep us alive and healthy can be turned against us—even after we’re gone.

    American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin
    If you want to talk about technology gone wrong, you can’t avoid the atomic bomb, as there are very few ways for technology to go more wrong than the potential end of the world. It’s the worst-case scenario of the fundamental forces of our universe being used not to feed the hungry, or to build incredible things, but to destroy in one tiny sunburst of energy. Again, it took human intention to turn this technology against us, and this incredibly rich and thoughtful biography of the man who led the way and his regrets and reactions to the consequences of his research puts a serious spin on an idea that’s usually exciting and fun in tension-filled thrillers.

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