Open endings

One of the more common criticisms of Dreaming in Code is that some people are disappointed the book ends without a clear resolution to the Chandler story (which was still unfolding at the beginning of 2006, as I wrapped up my work on the book, and is still unfolding today). So my ears perked up last week as I listened to NPR’s Weekend Edition and heard its film critic, Elvis Mitchell, defending the David Fincher movie Zodiac (which I haven’t seen and have no opinion about) from Scott Simon’s complaint that it lacked a satisfying wrap-up. Mitchell argued that the whole movie is an homage to the ’70s indie-film aesthetic and that a willingness to tell stories without providing a traditional ends-tying conclusion was a hallmark of that era’s directors.

Here’s the passage:

SIMON: The film doesn’t tie anything together with a pretty — or in this case, since you’re talking about a murder, an ugly — series of bows. I know it’s real life, I know there was no way of avoiding it; but I found tht dramatically unsatisfying — to go through this long movie, and not have that at the end.

MITCHELL: It’s so funny you say that, Scott, because that’s a ’70s movie ethic — they’d say, basically, you can’t say that things are tied up anymore, these aren’t John Wayne movies, these aren’t Jimmy Stewart movies, these aren’t Henry Fonda movies. The real act of creative bravery in Zodiac is to follow with that, and to say that this is what these movies were, these movies that influenced me as a filmmaker, and I’m going to use that here, in a case where people really want that kind of closure, and not give it to them.

I can’t claim that my choice to conclude Dreaming in Code the way I did was any sort of statement of allegiance to authors or auteurs past. More, it was just a belief that, in non-fiction, you’d better let the shape of the story be dictated by reality and not wishful thinking.

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  1. I think your ending was appropriate and well done. No software is ever truly finished, as you wrote (and as a software engineer I agree). This project was quite stellar in its unfinishedness.

  2. Justin

    I’ve just finished your book (last night) and I agree… the ending is very appropriate to the subject matter. I found as a whole that it was a very accurate description of software development; I myself am currently reaching the end of a 3 month long death march.

  3. Have we learned nothing from Truman? He hung out for the end of the story and never wrote anything of note again. Ship the software, ship the book! Don’t be In Cold Blood (though darn, that was a rather good book…)

  4. Perhaps the book needs a couple of more iterations, V2.0 anyone? Seriously, after (well during) reading the book, I pulled up the projects website.. The video of how the thing works is lovely but not tempting me to switch (I loved ECCO and used to use it). I’ll check back on the project, and book in a few more cycles.


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