THE DEVOURING FUNGUS: Tales of the Computer Age by Karla Jennings

THE DEVOURING FUNGUS: Tales of the Computer Age

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An Atlanta free-lance writer (The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, etc.) relates the history of the computer through its accumulated folklore--from tales of hackers' derring-do to the origin of the term ""nerd."" ""Ants farm,"" Jennings tells us, ""chimps make tools. . .but only one species tells lies--ah, legends."" Legends are the stuff of this lighthearted history of men and their computers, and in the spirit of fun Jennings makes little effort to separete fiction from fact. No matter: More serious tomes may offer a clearer time line from the original room-sized mainframes to tomorrow's laptop, but none entertains like this sit-down comic's routine. Having discovered to her surprise that ""computer professionals love a good tale as much as anyone,"" Jennings sent out requests for anecdotes via electronic bulletin board. What she got back were some minor whoppers to sprinkle here and there within a history that begins roughly with Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine; proceeds through the age of hackers (""bright young men of disheveled appearance, often with sunken glowing eyes,"" as computer guru Joseph Weizenbaum described them); and on to Silicon Valley (where ""people stop you in the street and ask for a dollar to buy a floppy""). Along the way, viruses cause computers to spew out unexpected messages (""Friar Tuck. . .I am under attack! Pray save me!""); Robert T. Morris, Jr., is arrested for innocently introducing a computer virus into Arpanet; and technofanatics trade horror stories of computers transforming themselves from slave to angry despot. A welcome chapter on compuspeak is also included--an encouragement to readers who dream of helping the mythos grow. This doesn't hold a candle to Steven Levy's more serious Hackers (1984), but it does lay out the techie mythos in an appropriately freewheeling, user-friendly style.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Norton