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Cheap Complex Devices (Mind Over Matter) (English Edition) [Kindle Edition]

John Compton Sundman

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Cheap Complex Devices, purportedly an anthology of winners of the inaugural Hofstadter Prize for Machine-Written Narrative, is part of the larger work Mind Over Matter, which also comprises Acts of the Apostles by John F.X. Sundman and The Pains by John Compton Sundman. While ostensibly telling the story of the inaugural Hofstadeter Prize for Machine-Written Narrative, Cheap Complex Devices tells the story of an entity coming to awareness. What is that entity? Is it Todd Griffith, the chip designer with bullet in his brain from the novel Acts of the Apostles? Is it a bee, or a swarm or bees, a Shaker village or a very buggy floating point processor? There is ample evidence to support any of these hypotheses. Or is it, possibly, the mythical meta-character named "Sundman"? Read the book and form your own opinions.

Acts of the Apostles is a Bourne-Identity style thriller about nanomachines, neurobiology, Gulf War Syndrome and a Silicon Valley messiah. It tells how Todd Griffith, a chip designer, gets a bullet in the head after successfully debugging a race condition in the Kali chip. In Cheap Complex Devices, Todd's situation is looked at from a different angle. Some people even think that Todd himself, or his consciousness transferred into a bug-riddled computer, is the real author of Cheap Complex Devices.

The Pains is a lavishly illustrated dystopian phantasmagoria set in a universe that is part George Orwell's 1984 and part Ronald Reagan's 1984. It tells the story of Mr. Norman Lux, a sincere young monk beset with bewildering maladies that seem somehow chaotically connected to the fate of the world. Some people have observed that Mr. Lux's condition is markedly similar to that of an electron in a race condition in a buggy chip -- perhaps the one Todd Griffith was designing when he was shot? Or the one in which his thoughts are now imprisoned?


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 585 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 128 Seiten
  • Gleichzeitige Verwendung von Geräten: Keine Einschränkung
  • Verlag: Rosaita Assotiates; Auflage: 1 (22. September 2010)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • ASIN: B004477X5K
  • Text-to-Speech (Vorlesemodus): Aktiviert
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Aktiviert
  • Amazon Bestseller-Rang: #223.262 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop (Siehe Top 100 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop)

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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 4.6 von 5 Sternen  22 Rezensionen
23 von 23 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A computer, a madman, and a swarm of bees 26. Oktober 2002
Von "kuro5hin" - Veröffentlicht auf
There once was a madman who dreamed that he was sane and it was the rest of the world that was mad. From that day on he was never certain if he was mad, or if he was a swarm of bees, or if he was a Shaker village, or if he was a court deposition in defense of Ted Kaczynski, or if he was a fictional character in a novel written by a computer. Or if there was really any difference between these things.
To put it another way: "Read This Manuscript, It Is By a Madman Who Thinks He Is a Computer Program."
John Sundman's long-awaited second novel, Cheap Complex Devices is astonishing, on just about every level a book can be astonishing. In one sense, it is a full 180 degree reversal from his first book Acts of the Apostles which was a fairly straightforward techno-thriller in the Michael Crichton mold. In another sense, CCD is the exact same story as Acts.
Cheap Complex Devices is composed of four (or possibly five) parts, at least one of which is actually missing. The Foreword tells the story of the book's genesis according to nominal editor John Compton Sundman, of Stanhope Island, Maine. He recounts how he became involved in a prototypical game of nerd one-upmanship at a meeting of the Special Interest Group for Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI). Two research groups, both working on "Human-Language Storytellers" (or "Hals", which are software programs that write stories) meet over dinner one night, and eventually get into an argument about whose Hal is better.
The rivalry between the two competing research groups leads them to propose a contest, the first ever Hofstadter Prize for Machine-Written Narrative, to determine whose storytelling program is the best. Mr Sundman, as a neutral party and a technical writer by trade, is asked to edit the final collection of works, and arrange for a small private publication of the winners.
There are only two finalists, so it is decided that both will be published. Mr. Sundman collects and edits the two stories, but thinks that they deserve more than a small private printing. He has in his possession, after all, the first known evidence that a computer can tell a story; something which it was previously thought only a human could do.
And here the trouble starts. He loses one manuscript, that of "The Bonehead Computer Museum," which later turns up as a book published by someone else, who he claims has stolen his identity, and which is pretty clearly John F.X. Sundman's first book Acts of the Apostles. John Compton Sundman (editor of CCD and our present narrator) bemoans the minor but uniformly harmful changes made to "Bonehead" to turn it into Acts, and also the blatant and shameless theft of his identity by the supposed author, who he claims is actually a retired police officer.
What remains of the collection, then, is the "Notes on the Source Code" written by members of the Hofstadter Prize committee, and the second of the two winners, a shorter novella called "Bees, or The Floating Point Error". John C. Sundman has decided to publish these alone, and let "Bonehead" (or Acts) fall by the wayside, as it is by now hopelessly tangled up in a legal mire.
You can read both the Foreword and the Notes on the Source Code online for yourself, so I won't belabor the point. But by the time "Bees" begins, the book has already gone to some lengths to cast the reader adrift and chop off all of your normal assumptions at the knees. Books are written by humans, right? Well, maybe this is all the product of John F.X. Sundman's imagination, and he's just messing with us. Or maybe it isn't. Books have a beginning, a middle, and an end, right? Well this one has at least three beginnings, middles scattered liberally throughout, and all of the ends are provisional at best. I was also left with a distinct feeling that some of the ends were actually beginnings in disguise (and vice versa).
But what on Earth is the point of all this tomfoolery? The reason all of it works here is because it all serves a purpose. Acts was a straightforward thriller, albeit one that turned the normal hero/villain conventions of the genre upside down, by making technology itself the villain. CCD has largely the same point to make, but makes it from the opposite direction. The levels of confusion build up and multiply until you don't know what to believe. The effect is strengthened by the inclusion of several stories that have such clarity of detail and force of reality that you suspect they are the literal truth -- that they actually happened -- even though they are told in the service of a tale that cannot be true.
Rather than tell you the story of technology run amok, as Acts does, CCD runs amok itself, and takes you along for the ride. It is a piece of writing that in lesser hands would almost certainly have crashed and burned in the most abject depths of pointless self-indulgence. But Sundman somehow walks the razor's edge perfectly and pulls it off. By the end, I wanted to clap at the sheer breathtaking feat of narrative I had just experienced.
Cheap Complex Devices is a very complex device, and would take a lot more words than this to really unwrap and analyze. I suspect that the end result of such an effort would be similar the results of Ray Kurzweil's "onion peeling" metaphor for the search for the location of human consciousness. Each layer you peel off, you still have a whole onion, albeit a slightly smaller one. And at the end, you have a lot of onion peels, and no onion at all.
Or, to put it another way, if you read one book in the waning days of biological humanity's monopoly on Earthbound intelligence, better make it this one.
18 von 19 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen This is not a review 21. April 2003
Von Ichabob - Veröffentlicht auf
This is not a review of John Sundman's "Cheap Complex Devices" (CCD). If it were, the first sentence of this paragraph would be false, forming a rather simplistic example of a "strange loop", one of those inherently self-contradictory structures whose existence is postulated by Goedel's theorem to be possible in any "sufficiently complex" system that can represent statements in logic.
After the obligatory snippets of glowing reviews, the back cover proudly declares that CCD was awarded the Hofstadter Prize for computer-generated fiction. Douglas Hofstadter is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of one of the seminal literary works related to computer science, "Goedel, Escher, Bach: the Eternal Golden Braid". Goedel, as mentioned above, was a mathematician whose most famous work dealt with self contradiction in logical systems; Escher was an artist who created many famous works that play upon our interpretations of "3 dimensional" drawings done on flat surfaces. Bach, of course, was a 17th century German organist of some repute.
The first key to understanding CCD is to realize that there is, in fact, no Hofstadter prize, and no Society for Analytical Engines to award it. This book was not written by a military surplus AWACS computer with (or without) a faulty floating point unit. Even the review snippets on the back cover are fictional. All of these fictions regarding the book could be described as "meta fiction", which exist on a different conceptual level from the book itself. The clever use of meta-fiction justifies this volume's claim on the Hofstadter Award. Except that, if the award actually existed, the metafiction would not, and this book would no longer merit the award. Strange loops indeed.
Continuing in Hofstadterian fashion, references, contrasts, and comparisons are made repeatedly to Sundman's first novel, "Acts of the Apostles" forming the illusion of a dual with the earlier book. But "Acts" doesn't deul back, and there is no compelling reason to read "Acts" before CCD.
But this is not a review of "Acts of the Apostles", any more than it is of Lewis Carrol's "Through the Looking Glass", Steve Martin's "Pure Drivel", or any other work to which "Cheap Complex Devices" might be reasonably compared. None of those works are prerequisite to this one.
After all, this has actually been a review of "Goedel, Escher, Bach"
9 von 9 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Minds and Machines 20. Oktober 2002
Von Howard Stearns - Veröffentlicht auf
"Cheap Complex Devices" is one volume of a matched pair with "Acts of the Apostles." Both are laced with references to each other and retell scenes and themes from different viewpoints in an eternal golden braid. Reading both, any geek will enjoy finding the jokes, the errors, and the parodies and elegies of themselves. The whole effect is naughty and pretentious and fun: like drinking Glenlivet, listening to late Beatles, and discussing Dan Dennett with that stunning comp. sci. major you?d rather be sleeping with.
And like the Beatles, it helps to have a guide to the backstory:
The other and earlier volume, "Acts of the Apostles", reads as a technological thriller. It is an entertaining and satisfying story that you can imagine would have Harrison Ford or some other favorite actor in the lead role. It stands on its own.
The CCD volume contains the novella, "Bees, or, The Floating Point Error." This reads like Hunter S Thompson narrating Douglas Hofstadter: "Goedel, Escher, Bach" on acid.
Also included in CCD is an introduction to both stories. It purports to be an academic article describing each story as written by a computer program for an AI story-telling contest.
Finally, we have a forward in CCD that presents an explanation of why there are two separate volumes, several different John Sundmans, and yet another name for the collection.
All are threaded with malfunctioning brains and psyches and processors. There's guilt and Ted Kaczynsky and a quest to internalize God. But while the craft of "Acts" is in telling an entertaining story, CCD is deeper and closer to the author. Like many a second album, it might not be appreciated by people who enjoyed the popular hooks of the premier.
A cognitive science course might have readings from such collections as Anderson's "Minds and Machines" or Haugeland's "Mind Design." These contain essays on what it is to be human, to have a mind. CCD is an artist's telling of the same tale in experiential, rather than academic form.
And it is fine art. Behind all the games and metaphors, CCD is ultimately honest and naked and beautiful. As the author says in the CCD introduction:
"As to the hypothesis that what you have in your hands is one
upside-down novel, 'Mind over Matter' start to finish, written
by one man... The literary tricks. The untrustworthy narrator.
The novels within a novel. The sophomoric self-reference, and
ham-fisted roman a clef are all cheap and tired devices; they
increase complexity without much noticeable benefit to the
reader. It's hard to imagine that a writer with so much talent
and so many important things to say would squander his audience
by indulging in literary tchatchkis, trinkets, knick-knacks,
gimcracks, bric-a-brac, gee-gaws, baubles, do-dads, and
ephemeral things."
So read "Acts of the Apostles." If you want to push deeper into the mind behind it, read "Cheap Complex Devices."
7 von 7 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Bohemian Ink Review 16. April 2003
Von Josiah James - Veröffentlicht auf
`Edited' by John Sundman, Cheap Complex Devices is a small thing, exactly 108.000001 pages in length. This stream-of-consciousness story dodges and weaves through a series of narrative tangents. Looping themes and questions provide cohesion. Taken as a whole, CCD acts as a critique on social injustice and as a satire on the pretentiousness of academic AI.
Enna is cold. I am a swarm of bees. Bees act as one. No, I am one. Enna boubi. The child starves to death. I am excited, about to explode, explode all over... Welcome to page 66.6; roughly 63.451 pages past pi. Moloch-the vileness of what it means to be human-BEWARE, it animates those around us. In us. In you. Enna boubi. I am a swarm of bees. No, I am a bee-a drone. A Shaker Village perhaps. They did not die out because of abstinence.
In the borderlands, somewhere between Ethiopia and Sudan, she stands on the edge of the mountains. The young woman discovers an ancient monastery. She sees the true text of St. Mark. In the village below, a group of separatists are sending up a weather balloon to blow the satellites out of the sky.
What if Christ returned as a honeybee? RESET. A floating point processor `floats' based on number order and magnitude. What if the return came in the form of a bee, or of a girl? In the woods a woman once told me he would return in 1984. How old would he be? Why he? How old would she be? RESET. Fertilizer can be used to feed the soil and to make bombs. RETURN. He never left, and he's about to get pissed off. Enna boubi. It is cold. It is very, very cold.
Social injustice. The unreliability of self. Spirituality. The corruption of establishments. The question of what it really means to be patriotic. Strange. Very strange. Cheap Complex Devices is a puzzle-tricky, teasing, seemingly impossible. But ahh, wait! There is the completed picture: it is beautiful, but oh, it is cold.
4 von 4 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Rich in Thought and Texture 5. September 2002
Von "eann13" - Veröffentlicht auf
At around 100 pages, Cheap Complex Devices may not look like much for the price. Pair it with John F.X. Sundman's earlier book (Acts of the Apostles), though, and it's one of the few books you'll want to read twice in one sitting just to make sure you got it all.
Describing the flow of the text as nonlinear would be a category error; it's not even operating in Euclidean space. In places, the narrative is locked in eerie self-reference, sometimes with one or more intermediary steps in the chain. Cheap Complex Devices claims it wants to be philosophically troubling, but the stated problem of a computer telling a story is much less thought-provoking than the story it tells. We are left, ultimately, with only the title and the task of determining whether, in this context, it refers to computers or humans.
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