How books date

I have been having a phase of reading novel’s I read years go, this time it is Neuromancer by William Gibson (published 1984). This choice was triggered by it being reviewed on BBC Radio4’s A Good Read, the suggestion of Bill Thompson the BBC technology columnist.

I have been surprised by how little it seems to have dated, ok in places the sizes of data streams and the like seem small (how fast capacity moves on), and maybe the way cyberspace is visualized was nearer the mark of today’s virtual worlds in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (published 1992) but on the whole it seems just as believable as a remember it being when I first read it. Still a worthwhile enjoyable read that has not aged as so much Sci-Fi does.

However, when it comes to books dating it seems that history books suffer the most. Currently I am reading Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition and Still Can’t Get a Date, a really interesting book that is making me feel old as many of the systems it talks about I have used; we had a single Tandy TRS80 at school (it replaced our 5 hold punch paper tape teletype!) and my first IT job was for a PC Dealership that sold the IBM PC-AT in the mid 80s.

Accidental Empires was written in the mid 90s (the 2nd edition I have been reading was published 1996) and I think it shows. In the past 10 years the industry has moved on so much, particularly Microsoft’s dominance, Bill Gate’s role in Microsoft (and as a philanthropist) not to mention the resurrection of Steve Jobs and Apple.

So what does this teach us? Books often say more about their time of publication than the subject they purport to cover whether it is history or the future.