I never thought I would find a copy of it on the shelves, let alone in Korea. But in the Youngpoong bookshop in the Central City shopping complex attached to the Seoul Express Bus Terminal, I boggled for a moment and then realized that, yes, what I was looking at was that very same book, a decade old and micheviously new-looking (the text reads pretty freshly too, a credit to Mr. Sterling). There it was, nudged between a Christian diatribe and a copy of Ayn Rand. I just had to rescue it. So I plunked down my ten-thousand won (about $9 US I guess) and made off with it. Waaaa, jal hesseoyo! (Aaaah, I did well!), as they say in Korean…
This book is fascinating for several reasons: firstly, I am a fan of Sterling’s work. I think he’s one of the more interesting writers around today, and his style is something that keeps me coming back to his work. I think his more recent Holy Fire is perhaps the most beautiful SF novel I have ever read.
Another reason, however, is that this is not an SF novel. It is a real-science-and-technology story, in fact, and one pretty much contemporary to the time when it was written. Sterling’s reporting style is a lot like his fiction style, in the way it pulls no punches and grabs both the issue and the reader.
But the last reason I find this book fascinating, 80-some pages in, is that Sterling is not really taking sides. He explores the hacker’s psychology, the underworld of phreaks, the mentality of cops, the soul of the telcommunications company. He notes the foibles of each, but also markedly doesn’t shy away from their fancy… which is to say, their dreams and their day-to-day modus operandi. He notes that hackers boast, and explains why, and then explains why cops haplessly believe those boasts. I am certain he has his own biases, but I must say that I think he was, at least up to the point I’ve reached treating everyone rather critically and fairly.
I’m only about a third of the way through, but I want to recommend this book very very highly. You can get a copy of it online at several different places (1) (2) (3) if you don’t happen to be as lucky as me and can’t find it in paperback format.
Bruce Sterling, by the way, if you don’t know him, is a rather interesting fellow. I think that his green virtual design group, the Viridian Design Movement, is quite worth checking out. And piles and piles of his writing is available online: a good place to start is at The Bruce Sterling Online Index, and I highly recommend his Catscan articles for an intro into his nonfiction prose. And here’s his very interesting weblog.
update: April 27/2003
I finished The Hacker Crackdown and I want to just note that what I think is most stellar about this book is Sterling’s very balanced representation of everyone involved. He doesn’t fail to bring forth the pathos of hacker kids doing stupid things, of cops believing their strutting and bragging, and I think it is from that patheticness that we see the “end of the amateurs” emerge. This book is important because for me it seems it is a case study in how a really important, revolutionary technology gets looked at, legally and socially, when it’s brand new and hasn’t yet changed much… that is, when a society isn’t so centrally dependent on it that everyone knows a bit about it and how to use it (as, it seems to me, computers have become… or is it just that I’m living in a cybernation? Korea is so wired it stuns me sometimes. Maybe my view of world computing is skewed…).
In any case, I very highly recommend the book.