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October 13, 2003

Come in, White Hart. Ken MacLeod reviews Backroom Boys: the Secret Return of the British Boffin by Francis Spufford, a Faber and Faber title forthcoming in November.
This is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year, and the one most likely to appeal to SF fans. I mean, how many books start with a wartime pub scene of the London members of the British Interplanetary Society cheering as the near-miss plaster falls around them because they recognise instantly what an explosion followed by a strange rising boom means for their dreams?
According to Ken, Spufford anecdotally covers six different areas of modern British science and engineering, but the book’s real achievement is to put across the “distinctive style of each field’s native geek.” I want this book. [05:24 PM]
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Comments on Come in, White Hart.:

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2003, 06:07 PM:

It's already up on Amazon UK for a310.49 with one "used" copy available for more than that. Listed "like new" which does make sense since this hasn't shipped there either . . .

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2003, 06:31 PM:

I want it, too. I have long been fascinated by the culture(s) of techies. And at SF cons such panels as "Tales from the Tech Shop" are always entertaining, and always well-attended.

Am now reading *Quicksilver*. One facet of Neal Stephenson's work is a recurring rumination on the mind of the techie. The latest book goes back to the Royal Society boffins of the 17th Century, and tries to show them in the process of inventing boffinhood. It will be interesting to contrast this with Spufford's book.

Maureen Kincaid Speller ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 01:17 AM:

I want the book on principle. I've read several books by Francis Spufford and while I have been puzzled by them on occasion, I've not been disappointed.

Sf types might care to go to www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/arts/openbook/openbook.shtml in the next few days, where they will be able to catch a recording of a programme about British science fiction, featuring Steve Baxter, Pat Cadigan and Francis Spufford. His contributions to the programme were enthusiastic and knowledgeable, which cheered me up no end.

Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 05:52 AM:

Francis is an amazingly good thing. His book on growing up as a precocious child with a dying sister is quite excellent. In fact I think it's rather better than the geek book, though I have only read that in proof. I suspect it was written too hurriedly. On the other hand, the bit of it I do know about, dealing with the human genome, is a wonderfully clear exposition of the problesm and the people.

Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 11:02 AM:

Read the book, heartily second Ken's recommendation. (Going to write up my own review in the Alien Online just as soon as I get this novel redraft finished ...)

Nick Smale ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2003, 06:03 PM:

There's an extract in today's Guardian.