Are you someone who'd use a RAM chip as fertilizer? Do you think that the best way to boot up a computer is with a steel toe? Then The Devouring Fungus is the book for you. Anyone who's ever had anything to do with computers-from the sophisticated hacker to the confused office worker to the unsuspecting parent who finally relented to the kid's demand for a PC-will find something here to chuckle about.
An Atlanta free-lance writer (The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, etc.) relates the history of the computer through its accumulated folklore - from tales of hackers' derring-do to the origin of the term "nerd." "Ants farm," Jennings tells us, "chimps make tools. . .but only one species tells lies - ah, legends." Legends are the stuff of this lighthearted history of men and their computers, and in the spirit of fun Jennings makes little effort to separete fiction from fact. No matter: More serious tomes may offer a clearer time line from the original room-sized mainframes to tomorrow's laptop, but none entertains like this sit-down comic's routine. Having discovered to her surprise that "computer professionals love a good tale as much as anyone," Jennings sent out requests for anecdotes via electronic bulletin board. What she got back were some minor whoppers to sprinkle here and there within a history that begins roughly with Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine; proceeds through the age of hackers ("bright young men of disheveled appearance, often with sunken glowing eyes," as computer guru Joseph Weizenbaum described them); and on to Silicon Valley (where "people stop you in the street and ask for a dollar to buy a floppy"). Along the way, viruses cause computers to spew out unexpected messages ("Friar Tuck. . .I am under attack! Pray save me!"); Robert T. Morris, Jr., is arrested for innocently introducing a computer virus into Arpanet; and technofanatics trade horror stories of computers transforming themselves from slave to angry despot. A welcome chapter on compuspeak is also included - an encouragement to readers who dream of helping the mythos grow. This doesn't hold a candle to Steven Levy's more serious Hackers (1984), but it does lay out the techie mythos in an appropriately freewheeling, user-friendly style. (Kirkus Reviews)