Ullman, Ellen 1950(?)-
ULLMAN, Ellen 1950(?)-
Born c. 1950. Education: Cornell University, B.A. (English).
Software engineer and writer; worked as a computer programmer, beginning 1978; freelance consultant to software companies; guest commentator on National Public Radio.
Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents: A Memoir, City Lights Books (San Francisco, CA), 1997.
The Bug, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2003.
Essays included in anthologies, including Resisting the Virtual Light, City Lights Books, 1994, and Wired Women, Seal Press, 1996. Contributor to periodicals, including Harper's and Wired; contributor to Salon.com.
Ellen Ullman marshals her twenty years of computer programming expertise in her 2003 novel The Bug. In New Scientist, Wendy M. Grossman noted that Ullman is a "rarity" among writers; her published work "explores the relationships between humans and computers in a way that is not open to anyone who hasn't been a programmer." In praise of Ullman's memoir Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents, New York Times Book Review contributor J. D. Biersdorfer dubbed the book an "admirable" account of a middle-age woman "standing up to, and facing down, 'obsolescence' in two different, particularly unforgiving worlds—modern technology and modern society."
Taking place in 1984, shortly after the development of the first personal computer, Ullman's darkly humorous first novel The Bug introduces readers to Silicon Valley software tester Roberta Walton, a linguist with a Ph.D., no job prospects in her field, and an often-absent boyfriend, who discovers a bug in one of her company's programs. Walton shares her find with programmer Ethan Levin, who at first does not take her seriously because she is a) a woman; and b) not a programmer. When the bug proves to be a serious problem, Ethan attempts to track it down and find its genesis in his own program, but to no avail; the "Jester," as the bug is now known, only appears intermittently and always freezes the company's computer system at the worst time. As Roberta gains programming skills in an effort to forge an uneasy alliance with Ethan and help him at his task, the fate of Walton's company, Telligentsia, has dimmed to less than bright, and Ethan has become increasingly unhinged. Praising Ullman's characterization of the techie Ethan, a Publishers Weekly contributor noted that she "brings to the programmer mindset, in numerous finely wrought asides, a combination of poetic and philosophical sensibilities that plumb the abstruse depths of technological creation." Writing in Library Journal, Lawrence Rungren called The Bug a "deeply humanistic and surprisingly old-fashioned work that's certainly 'not for geeks only,'" while in Kirkus Reviews, an enthusiastic reviewer added that Ullman "sustains a haunting tone of revulsion mingled with nostalgia" in drawing readers into the "innermost circle of computerdom."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 2003, Gavin Quinn, review of The Bug, p. 1582.
IEEE Software, May-June, 1998, interview with Ullman, pp. 42-45.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2003, review of The Bug, p. 568.
Library Journal, May 1, 2003, Lawrence Rungren, review of The Bug, p. 157.
New Scientist, April 26, 2003, Wendy M. Grossman, review of The Bug, p. 53.
New York Times Book Review, November 30, 1997, J. D. Biersdorfer, review of Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents: A Memoir, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, April 28, 2003, review of The Bug, p. 46.
Women's Review of Books, February, 2001, interview with Ullman, p. 6; July, 2003, Martha Nichols, review of The Bug, pp. 26-28.
Nan A. Talese Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/nanatalese/ (October 12, 2003).*