The Silicon Jungle, my collection of I-was-there stories from the computer world of the 1980s, is now a free book on Project Gutenberg thanks to Distributed Proofreaders.

You can download it in ePub, plain text, HTML, or Kindle format. Several hundred people already have.

Published originally by the Ballantine division of Random House in 1985, the Jungle is a mix of microcomputer lore and how-tos. Among the highlights are chapters on:

–The Kaypro, one the first “portable” computers. Um, it was really sewing-machine sized. The screen was a gigantic nine inches, more or less the same as the one on my iPad today—a fraction of Kaypro’s size and weight.

WordStar, the first really good piece of word-processing software in the opinion of many writers. George R. R. Martin has used WordStar to write his best-selling Game of Thrones books, the inspiration for the HBO series. I caught up with WordStar developer Seymour Rubinstein and programmer Rob Barnaby.

1980s-era hacking by “Captain Zap” and others, along with countermeasures—and smugness. “Computer crime is not now, never has been, and never will be out of control,” I skeptically quoted the Computer and Business Equipment Manufacturers Association, “unless security is completely ignored. And that is not going to happen.” Never. Just ask the CIA, the Democratic National Committee, the Target, Adobe, Yahoo (latest here) and the rest.

The story of the 300-baud modeming between sci-fi great Arthur C. Clarke and MGM/UA director Peter Hyams during the scriptwriting of the movie 2010. A.C.C. was in Sri Lanka, Peter in Los Angeles. I helped line up their Kaypros and helped with the MITE communications program they used.

Clarke, WordStar, ebooks and bathtubs

The late Clarke was a huge WordStar fan. He was less prescient about ebooks.

“Nothing will ever replace books,” Clarke said via my 300-baud connection with Sri Lanka. “They can’t be matched for convenience, random access, nonvolatile memory (unless dropped in the bath), low power consumption, portability, etc.

“But information networks will supplement them and replace whole categories, e.g., encyclopedias and telephone directories (as is being planned in France).”

Oh, well. At least Clarke loved WordStar. I’m just sorry he didn’t live to see water-proof beauties like the Kobo Aura One ereader.

My past belief that WordStar would go on and on–expressed in the Jungle–is one reason for my devotion to ebook standards and dislike of DRM for retail books. I learned my lesson. Martin’s use of WordStar today is a novelty in in the word-processing universe as a whole. The computer world moves on. As much as possible, we must not tether ourselves in the long run to individual companies, be they MicroPro (originator of WordStar) or Amazon.

Also in the Jungle are 1980s-era reflections, in the Clarke chapter, on technology, imports and the decline of factory jobs in places like Lorain, Ohio, the steel town where I once worked as a newspaper reporter. Yes, it was an issue even back then.

Finally, huge thanks to Juliet Sutherland, K. D. Weeks and the rest of the crew at Distributed Proofreaders for getting the Jungle online for free. May  it be useful to nostalgia buffs and students of technology!

Detail: You can register here to volunteer for DP and make donations here. You can also help out PG.

Also of interest: Track Changes: A Literary History of Word-Processing, by Matthew G. Kirshenbaum, a professor at the University of Maryland.

Correction: The communications program ultimately used was MITE, not Modem7.