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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Christos H. Papadimitriou

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To purchase Turing

Title: Turing
Author: Christos H. Papadimitriou
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003
Length: 281 pages
Availability: Turing - US
Turing - UK
Turing - Canada
  • A Novel about Computation

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Our Assessment:

B : adequate, unremarkable

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
American Scientist A- 5-6/2004 Stuart M. Shieber
New Scientist . 18/10/2003 David Langford
San Francisco Chronicle B+ 7/12/2003 Sally Abbott

  From the Reviews:
  • "The plot, such as it is, provides the excuse to present the most interesting, important and exciting results of computer science, as well as a passel of other ideas, in a readable and entertaining way, with a veneer of romance. This novel is a fun read, but not a mere entertainment. It has profundity as a side effect." - Stuart M. Shieber, American Scientist

  • "A wry wit and warmth pervade the lectures, and the book's multiple elements dovetail in an ingenious climax. A newsgroup wrap-up deconstructs the story and fills in the blanks, even as some of the subscribers unwittingly skewer themselves with their nationalism and homophobia. As long as expectations are in the computer education rather than the fiction camp, Turing delivers the goods." - Sally Abbott, San Francisco Chronicle

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The subtitle of Turing promises that it is: A Novel about Computation. Unfortunately, that's exactly what it turns out to be. There's a bit more to it -- a dash of romance, some globe-trotting, ancient Greek technology, and an ever-so-slightly futuristic vision -- but it still amounts to little more than an introductory course in computation, dressed up as a fiction.
       Papadimitriou isn't very daring, as already suggested by the setting: rather than leaping into the future he takes an ever-so-small step, the book apparently beginning around 2007. Technology is slightly more advanced, but not impressively so.
       One of the central characters is Ethel, inventor of some code she called exegesis which tailors search-query responses to the person making the request (based on their past behaviour and other personal information). It was enormously successful, leaving her rich if not entirely happy. She's decided now to have a baby, and sets off for Greece where she meets the archaeologist Alexandros and has a passionate affair with him (without telling him what she's really after). Eventually, she simply flees back home again, without him.
       There's another man in Ethel's life: Ian a so-called 'runner' who manages to make his way around the Net (an even more expansive, less controlled place than the Internet we're still familiar with) pretty much however he wants. Unfortunately, he's also fatally ill.
       The major presence in the book is, however, Turing himself. or rather: itself. It's "an interactive tutoring engine" that Alexandros finds himself hooked up with -- a very rare honour, apparently: Turing can't be found (or accessed) by just anybody; indeed many have tried but most have failed, and even Ethel thinks it may well be just an Internet rumour. It's also a Turing machine, an advanced sort of intelligence that could pass for human. And for some reason it's decided to tutor Alexandros about the whole damn history of computation.
       For someone who has never heard of any of this, Turing may be of interest -- but it's hard to imagine too many people who aren't familiar with the history and -- at least on this basic level -- the details of the maths, computer science, and artificial intelligence discussed here. And while Papadimitriou's presentation is fairly clear, those familiar with the material will probably also be fairly bored by these very basic explanations. Papadimitriou does alternate between computation-lessons and the rest of the story, but there's not too much of interest there either: basic stories that have some potential -- people trying to find love and satisfaction, searching for truth and for one another, using technology and escaping from it -- but which aren't presented excitingly enough to really grab the reader. The best thing in the book is one of the few that bridges the different parts of the novel, an ancient Greek artefact that fascinates Alexandros, but that's about all there is to get excited about.
       Semi-amusing is an Afterword, consisting of e-mails critiquing the book and the details therein, and offering additional explanations, but this section, too, isn't quite clever enough.
       Papadimitriou writes well enough -- though he gets carried away at times (unfortunately more with the sentimental and romantic stuff than the computational details) -- but the story simply isn't compelling enough. There's little excitement, and it's a major disappointment that the Turing-tutor doesn't do much more than tutor. (It does, at the end, do a little more, but even that isn't particularly exciting, or touching.)
       Turing offers a competent mix of science and fiction, but an unremarkable one. The novel is far too limited in its ambitions. What it does accomplish has been accomplished before, and dressing it up in this way doesn't make it any more appealing or interesting.

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Turing: Reviews: Christos H. Papadimitriou: Other books by Christos H. Papadimitriou under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Christos H. Papadimitriou teaches computer science at the University of California, Berkeley.

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© 2004-2010 the complete review

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