Books : reviews

Vikram Chandra.
Geek Sublime: writing fiction, coding software.
Faber & Faber. 2013

Vikram Chandra is an award-winning literary novelist, yet for years he worked as a professional computer programmer. Programming paid his way through graduate school and when his first novel was published, he gave up freelance computing work to write. But the impulse to program never left him.

In his extraordinary new book he looks at the connection between the two seemingly opposed worlds of art and technology. Programmers are obsessed with elegance and style, just as writers are, but do the words mean the same thing to both? Is there such a thing as ‘the sublime’ in code? Can code ever be called ‘beautiful’? And is it a coincidence that Chandra is drawn to these two ways of thinking?

Geek Sublime is an idiosyncratic history of coding, exploring logic gates and literary modernism, the machismo of geeks, the striking presence of an ‘Indian Mafia’ in Silicon Valley and the writings of Abhinavagupta, the 10th–11th-century Kashmiri thinker. A book of sweeping ideas, part-technology story and part-memoir, Geek Sublime is a heady and original work.