This resource lists a bunch of stories which in some way, explore the beautiful ideas behind computer science, software engineering and even plain old programming.
You can add more books, or more reviews of existing books via a pull request (see the project README first). Updates to the display mechanism are also welcome! A lot of the suggestions came from these HN threads: 1 2.
I'm tentatively calling this "hard comp-fi" to echo the well-established genre of hard sci-fi, which is defined by accurate, watertight science taking centre stage in the narrative. In hard comp-fi, by way of contrast, the computer science/software engineering/programming aspects are accurate, watertight and take centre stage in the narrative.
Some stories can be both, but they don’t have to be. In particular, magic lends itself very well as an allegory for computation: unlike its precursor, therefore, hard comp-fi often inhabits a fantasy setting. Hard comp-fi is not necessarily cyberpunk either; the latter can slant away from technical concepts and towards societal implications, usually with a bleak postmodernist aesthetic.
In the hardest comp-fi, programming skills contribute to the reader’s understanding of the plot, or perhaps vice versa: the plot contributes to the reader’s understanding of programming. You could probably class it all as rational fiction.
Genres are often defined by what they are *not*, so here are some honourable mentions:
- The Atrocity Archives (Charlie Stross) – is set in a Lovecraftian world where magic is portrayed as very scientific, albeit with expository hand-waving rather than detailed exploration.
- Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, likewise (albeit suitable for children).
- Gibson’s Neuromancer sets the tone for a vast quantity of cyberpunk in its dealings with AI and simulation, though I don’t feel this alone qualifies it.
Ratings are, of course, subjective and best taken with a pinch of MSG. All ratings are out of 5. CompFi proportion describes what proportion of the text is given over to comp-fi concepts. Higher proportion is not necessarily better or worse - it's a stylistic choice that necessarily trades off against e.g. character development. CompFi centrality describes how central comp-fi is to the narrative - not necessarily the same thing as proportion. CompFi combined takes an average of both and overall rating is a more conventional rating of quality.
Click any row to show text reviews, click any header to sort by column. Hyperlinks in titles lead to legal free downloads only.
Works recommended but lacking review
- Sherri Tepper’s True Game series
- Daemon by Daniel Suarez.
- The Adolescence of P1 by Thomas Ryan.
- Lifecycle of software objects by Ted Chiang
- The Digital Fortress, by Dan Brown
- Synners (Pat Cadigan). Medium lengths. Comp-fi hardness score: 3. Overall rating 4. "A cyberpunk tale involving virtual reality, a bit of AI, a step towards the singularity, and a young woman named Sam.". VR and AI do not alone qualify as hard comp-fi: I would need a more detailed review to include this.
- pulled from the 2nd HN thread: top level comments in upvote order
- We Are Legion (Dennis E. Taylor)
- David Moles's 'Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom
- Daemon - Daniel Suaraz
- Ted Chiang's The Lifecycle of Software Objects
- Quantum Thief trilogy by Hannu Rajaniemi
- "I Am AWAKE" by Fisher Samuels
- "When Harlie was One" by David Gerrold
- This Perfect Day, by Ira Levin
- The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein (though probably not comp-fi)
- the Adolescence of P1. And "Gateway" (same author?)
- Ken MacLeod, The Restoration Game
- Accelerando by Charles Stross
- Fredric Brown, "Answer"
- Stealing the Network series.
- Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect
- Neal Stephenson REAMDE and Diamond Age
- "Friendship Is Optimal" by Iceman https://www.fimfiction.net/story/62074/friendship-is-optimal
- "The Cookie Monster" by Vernor Vinge
- "Blood Music" by Greg Bear
- Cory Doctorow's short story from 2002, "0wnz0red", about programmers who hack their own bodies don't need exercise and never get sick: https://www.salon.com/2002/08/28/0wnz0red/
- Larry Niven's magic stories.
- Stanislav Lem is missing: the Cyberiad, tales of Pirx the pilot..
- WarGames movie
- Otherland series by Tad Williams
- Ready Player One movie
- Shockwave Rider by John Brunner
- Colossus: The Forbin Project" by DF Jones
- The Two Faces of Tomorrow" by Hogan.
- Peter Watts' Maelstrom, 3.5-4 compfi
- The three-body problem (Cixin Liu).
- Richard Powers' Galatea 2.2.
- The Bug” by Ellen Ullman
- Ramez Naam - Nexus
- Rudy Rucker's Ware Tetralogy
- James P. Hogan The Two Faces of Tomorrow: https://www.baen.com/the-two-faces-of-tomorrow.html
- THrice upon a time
- Coding Machines by Lawrence Kesteloot: https://www.teamten.com/lawrence/writings/coding-machines/
- any of William Hertling's series
- Cory Doctorow's Unauthorized Bread and Walkaway,
- Mr Robot 10 out of 5 (film)
- Berserkers series by Fred Saberhagen
- CTRL ALT Revolt, Soda Pop Solider, & Pop Kult Warlord, by Nick Cole.
- Serial Experiments Lain (anime)
- second level comments:
- Diaspora is a particularly good fit. (Egan)
- Pohl's Heechee Rendevous
- Vinge's "True Names"
- Greg Egan Axiomatic short story, and Singleton http://www.gregegan.net/MISC/SINGLETON/Singleton.html
- Ken MacLeod, Fall Revolution series, too: The Star Fraction, The Cassini Division, The Stone Canal, and The Sky Road
- The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security"(Kevin Mitnick)
- Rucker's "The Hacker and the Ants"