SILICON SNAKE OIL by Clifford Stoll


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 A message for avid computer users from the author of The Cuckoo's Egg (1989): Get a life. Stoll, a 15-year veteran of the electronic information age, appears to have reached a stage of burnout that most computer junkies pray they will never see, and the result is a cranky meditation on how better to spend one's time. A strong plot was the key to the author's bestselling first book (about a computer spy ring), but here we find only ramblings from someone who sounds half the time like a technical writer and half the time like a hip graduate student with a thesis statement to prove. Stoll wastes an inordinate number of pages driving home the point that it's nicer to experience a sensation than it is to view a representation of it on your monitor. Advised in tones that suggest a revelation that exploring a cave, visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and stargazing are more satisfying than punching in commands at the keyboard, readers may well wonder what on earth makes the author think them so misguided. There's no pleasing Stoll as he surveys cyberspace. For example, he slams most Usenet bulletin-board messages as futile, then complains that the messages are not catalogued. He has had it with e-mail, he announces--well, maybe it has something to do with his holding down six different online accounts. Stoll does provide some jollier moments, mostly in the form of truly wacky footnotes (in which we learn things like how to nail Jell-O to the wall) and in all-too-brief passages that herald back to his salad days of besting evil computer hackers. A staunch defender of library books and card catalogs, Stoll takes noble ideas and swamps them in a morass of overzealous grouching. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-385-41993-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1995


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