Vikram Chandra, Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, The Code of Beauty — December 14, 2014

Vikram Chandra, Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, The Code of Beauty

The pages of a book flapping in the breeze, sort of decaying into computer bits

This book ought to be a few essays. One is a very good — devastating, depressing — essay about women in technology in the U.S.; it argues rather clearly that the problem is not that women are less good at math and science, but rather that certain *sociological* facts about men in technology make the U.S. tech industry very masculine, thereby identifying the tech industry with certain virtues prized in certain subsets of the tech world, thereby identifying women *out* of that industry, thereby perpetuating itself. That essay is wonderful and terrible.

The Insidious Doctor Fu Manchu Interwoven with the women-in-tech section is a section that ties it to colonialism. This section is brilliant. Essentially: the first refuge of scoundrels is to prematurely universalize their own biases. It’s not that women have been systematically locked out of the temple, you see; it’s that *evolution itself* dictates that they be excluded. It’s not that their British overlords thought Indians inferior and treated them as such, while treating the Indian economy as an extractive agricultural one meant to feed the British industrial maw; no, it was of course that Indians are *by their nature* effeminate, weak, and deservedly on the bottom rung of the racial ladder. (The Chinese are brilliant, but evil.)

I really hoped this section would go somewhere. It didn’t. Indeed, I really hoped this section indicated the thematic direction and scope of the rest of the book: that we would find history, art, coding, misogyny, and colonialism all wrapped together in a devastating package. It wasn’t meant to be.

Chandra also gives us some scattered essays about the act of programming. Those are great — for me, anyway, and for those who have programmed a computer. I don’t think it will be really understandable by those who haven’t programmed, because Chandra doesn’t give enough context for those folks. I don’t know whom this part of the book was aimed at. Those who’ve programmed will nod vigorously at someone who managed to capture their lifestyle in well-chosen prose form, but was Chandra really trying to preach to the choir? Those who’ve not programmed might get some of it, but I have my doubts.

Finally, the plurality of the book is given over to a description of Indian philosophy, aesthetics, and literature. Most of it was, sad to say, lost on me, for the same reasons that I think the programming section will be lost on non-coders: not enough context, and a great many weighty Indian words thrown at the reader without terribly many examples to lodge them in our consciousness.

At the end of the book there’s a halfhearted attempt to tie all of this together, but I don’t think it goes anywhere.

I’d strongly advise reading the first 75 pages or so, then quietly returning it to the library.