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The Bug: A Novelby Ellen Ullman
Synopses & Reviews
In 1984, at a start-up company in Silicon Valley, a novice software tester, Roberta Walton, stumbles across a bug. It's an everyday occurrence; she brings it to its inadvertent creator, Ethan Levin, a longtime programmer working at the limits of his knowledge and abilities. So begins the story of The Bug.
This time, Ethan can't find the problem, no matter how obsessively he combs through the code. Roberta runs test after test but can't make the bug reappear at will, though she knows it's still lurking. No one can find the solution to this bug. The situation escalates until the fate of the company is on the line. Under the pressures of his obsession with the bug and his rapidly deteriorating personal life, Ethan Levin begins to unravel. Roberta, on the other hand, is drawn to the challenge. Forced to learn how to program, she comes to appreciate the unique feeling of being close to the machine, of speaking the computer's language and understanding its rules.
This is what Ellen Ullman is brilliant at conveying: the friction in the human-computer relationship, this tense space between human beings and the machines they have created — a space we all occupy every day as we peer into our computer screens. It's a space Ullman knows unusually well, having been a computer programmer for more than twenty years. And having switched from code to prose, she has proven herself a revelatory, fascinatingly articulate writer, taking readers places fiction has never brought them to before.
The Bug captures the strange and exhilarating atmosphere of the dawn of the personal computing era as perfectly as Soul of a New Machine, but the novel's true power comes from the qualities it shares with the most captivating fiction. In the tradition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, it updates the story of technology run amok; as an exploration of human transformation, it recalls Kafka's Metamorphosis. With an intriguing cast of full-blooded characters, deft, eloquent prose, and a suspenseful narrative, The Bug will keep readers — even those without a technological bone in their bodies — glued to its pages.
"Ellen Ullman writes unsparingly of the vivid, compelling, emotionally riven souls who gave us our new machines. By turns love story, tense psychological drama and comedy of (very bad) manners, The Bug is an edgy and irresistible journey into lives all too rarely visited by literary types." Geraldine Brooks, Author of A Year of Wonders
"For someone sitting so close to the machine, Ellen Ullman possesses a remarkably wide-angle perspective on the technology culture she inhabits... It's a ride we're all on, though most of us sit passively at the wheel; Ullman brings into sharp focus the blurry landscape whizzing by." Village Voice
"Ellen Ullman gives her extraordinarily realistic insider's perspective missing from the pundits who write about it secondhand. And male coders writing about their culture might not remember to include the life part." Stewart Brand
"Ellen Ullman, English major turned computer programmer, writes with humor and aplomb... Ullman takes her liberal arts sensibility and opens a fascinating window onto the culture of people obsessed with Activex controls, device drivers, and C++." Newsweek
A mesmerizing first novel about a demonic, elusive computer bug and the havoc it wreaks on the lives of the people around it--a novel of obsession, suspense, and love that takes readers behind the screens of the virtual life and plumbs the perils and the promises it poses to human nature.
The Bug is a mesmerizing first novel about a demonic, elusive computer bug and the havoc it wreaks on the lives of the people around it. This rare combination-a novel of ideas and a suspense-is a story about obsession and love that takes readers deep into both the personal and virtual life.
In 1984, at the dawn of the personal-computer era, Roberta Walton, a novice software tester at a SiliconValley start-up, stumbles across a bug. She brings it to its inadvertent creator, Ethan Levin, a longtime programmer who is working at the limits of his knowledge and abilities. Both believe this is a bug like any other to be found and fixed and crossed off the list. But no matter how obsessively Ethan combs through the depths of the code, he can't find its cause. Roberta runs test after test but can't make the bug appear at will. Meanwhile, the bug, living up to its name, "The Jester," shows itself only at the least opportune times and jeopardizes the fate of the company.
Under the pressures of his obsession with the bug and his rapidly deteriorating personal life, Ethan begins to unravel. Roberta, on the other hand, is drawn to the challenge. Forced to learn how to program, she comes to appreciate the intense intimacy of speaking the computer's language.
As she did in Close to the Machine, Ellen Ullman brilliantly limns the space between human beings and computers-a space we all occupy every day as we peer into our monitors. Ullman has been a computer programmer for more than twenty years, and having switched from code to prose, she has shown herself to be a unique, revelatory writer. She is the insider who can articulate the realities of the technical world, taking readers to emotional and intellectual places fiction has never brought them before. With The Bug, Ullman proves she is not only a remarkable essayist but also a master storyteller.
About the Author
Ellen Ullman worked as a computer programmer for over twenty years, entering the field when few women were part of the computing culture. She is the author of the cult classic memoir Close to the Machine and the fortchcoming novel The Bug. She currently writes for Harper's, Wired, and Salon, and has been a regular guest commentator on NPR. She lives in San Francisco, California.
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