I usually don’t review a series all at one time, preferring to take a look at individual books on their own. However, I picked up all three volumes of Circuits of the Wind by Michael Stutz at the same time and thought: What the heck? Why not look at the whole thing? As it turns out, that was the right way.
These three volumes follow Raymond (Ray when he is no longer a child) Valentine as he journeys from early childhood to trying to find his place in life during the dawning of the connection age. But, more importantly, the volumes aren’t separate books. They are each fully formed, but rather than being sequels in a series, they are portions of the same story and aren’t fully complete on their own.
Volume 1 first brings us Raymond and his young seeking of wonder in the world. He seeks that wonder in a lot of places. Most importantly for the overall story, he seeks wonder in the labyrinths of the telephone system and early computer networks:
The wonder of the telephone, so complex and technological and suggestive of another world, had completely enraptured him already at this early age–and he saw this wonder everywhere around him, in a parade of many things that came bursting forth in a steady procession through those years following his naked infancy: he saw it in the Sunbeam electric blender, with a good long panel of buttons, a heavy glass pitcher with complex notchings, and a black lid to seal it like a top hat; he saw it in the big mixer parked up on the counter, sleek and white as a moon rocket, with a wide turning knob at the end labeled with serious instructions and the beaters that whirred throatily when it was on–their curved steel fins were shaped to him like rocket ships, one slender and the other slightly pudgy for good variation, a fact he’d idly contemplate when he got to lick them after his mother’s baking; he saw it in a plastic measuring cup whose rows of numberings and complex red arcs and lines along the side were of some scientific import, possibly for use during the exploration of space and sea; and he saw it in all the other objects kept in deep cupboard tunnels of the kitchen, and even in the smaller cupboard tunnels of the bathroom, which had their own style and flavor and were vaguely dangerous, similar to what was found in the doctor offices where it always smelled sharply of rubbing alcohol and there was the constant fear of pain and needles.
Raymond seeks, and he finds. However, he does not always find what he is looking for. Aptly, he takes the name ‘The Wanderer’ and wanders. As he grows through elementary and high school, college, and on into life (through volumes 1 to three) he sees the possibilities of the Internet and such, but he struggles to find connection to other human beings and the mysterious overall purpose to his life to which he feels drawn by destiny:
He knew what he wanted: he wanted to bring great things to life, and do it with his work. He wanted to fulfill the wordless thing he’d long been after, wanted to find the way that he’d been searching for on all the wires; he wanted to see and know the greater world, the one beyond the wires–he wanted to find his way in it, to know his part; he wanted to be charmed by the dazzle of its colorful vast array, he wanted to be lost in all its workings; he wanted to wander far and wide and taste the succulence and flavor of a thousand towns and cities, he knew not which, nor where, he knew not how; he wanted a good gang of friends and the assurance of a history, which were the things he didn’t have; and most of all he wanted to know and have a purpose in this world–he suddenly hated his house, he thought that his life in Tabor was sterile and ridiculous, he told himself continually that something had to change, but he knew not what; he just knew that he couldn’t keep going as he’d been. There’d been something more, he’d seen it somewhere by a river-bend, and it was time to go and grasp it.
There was a great deal I enjoyed about the three volumes of Circuits of the Wind. I admit it; I’m a phone and computer enthusiast. Generally I was behind in what was going on. I read files about creating red boxes long after out of band signaling (in other words, signaling information is now carried on a signal band of phone networks other than voice so you can’t just play signaling tones over the voice band anymore) made that irrelevant. Though I had a computer in the early 80s (unfortunately, a Commodore Vic-20), I didn’t get a modem until 1995 and didn’t discovered bulletin board systems until 1998 when they were all but dead. Still, I’m an enthusiast and Circuits of the Wind managed to make me feel that I had been present for all of the wonders and possibilities, also letting me relive the ones I had actually been present for.
However, though there is plenty of hacker/phreaker material for such appetites, this isn’t a quick techno thriller that someone fond of Shimomura’s Takedown might be hoping for (I realize that one is supposed to be nonfiction, but enough allegations have been made regarding liberties in the account of taking down Kevin Mitnick that I think we can ignore the distinction). Instead, this book explores what it was like to be a person alive (and to try to find a way to live) at that very special time in the world. It bothers me to think that someone interested in a quick techno thriller might not appreciate that, or that people who would really dig the ‘more’ that Circuits of the Wind has might never think to read it.
Regardless, Circuits of the Wind is worthy of being read. It presents a great view of that time period in human history and, through the unique view of Ray/Raymond, gives us understanding of how we can be human beings in the connected world in which we now find ourselves.
Read Circuits of the Wind, but don’t read it in pieces. If you really want to understand the book, read the whole thing. Get all three volumes and read them one after another. That’s the way to get the full story, and you’ll really want the full story.