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fear my vigilantes

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Fri 27
Oct
2006

Astonishing Acts Involving Sleeves

Max Fin mid-mealLast night I sat down with Fin to read her a bedtime story, and she did the most amazing thing. She reached for the book, but two of her fingers were caught in her sleeve, so first she stretched her arm straight out, popping her hand free, then took the book.

Maybe that doesn’t sound so amazing. But I was flabergasted. It was so grown up. When I first saw Fin, she was seven cells. I saw her on a TV monitor, while Fin herself floated around inside an IVF doctor’s syringe. For the month prior to that, she was in frozen storage (and for this reason was called “Popsicle” during most of the pregnancy). She was seven cells. And now she can free her hand from her sleeve and climb stairs and wave at trains and moo at pictures of cows.

She’s 14 months old today. I know they grow up fast. But: wow.

Thu 19
Oct
2006

It begins

Jennifer Government Now you know I hate blowing my own trumpet every time something happens in the real world that’s straight out of one of my books. Well, maybe “hate” is too strong a word. I mean, “enjoy on a deep, almost sexual level.” Yeah. That’s more like it.

Anyway, I think this one is worth mentioning because it’s at the more extreme end: it’s that thing in Jennifer Government where everyone takes their surname from their employer. John Nike. Billy NRA. Violet ExxonMobil. And so on.

There’s a historical precedent for this: in centuries past, John Smith was the town blacksmith, Tim Baker really was a baker, and Geoff Wang was… well, let’s not think. In the Jennifer Government world, where a person’s job is the most important thing about them, returning to that concept made sense to me. Also, when I worked in sales, I’d get a call from “Michael Jamieson” or whoever, and frantically think, “Jamieson, Jamieson… who the hell is that?” It would have been so much simpler if he was “Michael McDonald’s.”

Now, we’ve already seen people selling their surnames to corporations, and even a particularly disturbing case of parents auctioning naming rights to their baby. But does it really count as a fulfilled prophesy when the people doing the fulfilling are missing some essential part of their brain? I dunno. I think that’s a little like saying, “I foresee a day when people will smack themselves in the face with hammers for fun,” and then claiming it came true because of my cousin Donny. Poor Donny. Well, you pity his parents, mostly. But back to the issue. For me to feel like I really nailed this one, it has to be done in all seriousness. Nobody should even see anything wrong with it.

So here we are. Lately companies have been stampeding into Second Life, a virtual reality of the kind that everyone thought the internet would be, before discovering it was just typing and clicking on links. In Second Life, you create an avatar—a little person to be—and run around… um, doing stuff. You know, like walking around… or going shopping… or building a house. But without having to stand up.

So. The news agency Reuters just opened an office there and assigned reporter Adam Pasick to the beat. So now there’s an avatar that looks like Adam in Second Life, reporting on news. Only what’s his name? Adam Reuters.

Oh yes. Innocuous. That’s how it starts.

Wed 11
Oct
2006

A Few Good Books

Writing I’m reading a succession of crappy books. Not deliberately. That would be weird. It just turned out this way: dud after dud. Every time I crack open a new one, I hope that I’m about to get that feeling: that moment when I realize, “Ooh, this is good.” But: nope. Nothing. I’ve even started abandoning books before the end, which I never used to do no matter how bad they were. (Instead, I would complain to Jen every night until I finished, stopping to point out particularly egregious passages. She prefers the new method.)

So it’s a good time to remember that I have read some good books recently. Of course, when I say “recently,” I mean “since I last updated my list of favorite reads,” i.e. in the last three years. But if I can assume that you care about my opinion, and aren’t here just because you googled for lonelygirl15, then maybe you’re interested in my recommendations.

Here are some books that, if you stopped by my house and said, “Got anything good to read?”, I would loan to you. I mean, once we had gotten past the screaming and “how did you get in here” stage.

Corpsing (Toby Litt): This was the first book of Toby’s I ever read, and I loved it so much that I keep buying more of his, even though all of those have turned out to be terrible. For me, Toby is that guy you know is trouble but can’t keep away from, because maybe this time it will be different; maybe he’ll treat you right. He never does. He’s a bad, bad man.

The Baroque Cycle: Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World (Neal Stephenson): I adored these. Almost everybody I’ve recommended them to has given up about 150 pages into the first book, saying, “Why the hell did you think I’d like that?” It’s inexplicable. I think all three books are amazing. If I had tried to write something like this, it would have taken me about 40 years. In fact, it would have taken me that long just to type them out, because they’re about 900 pages each.

Apathy and Other Small Victories (Paul Neilan): Obviously.

A Certain Chemistry (Mil Millington): The British do excruciating better than anybody. Reading this was like having my fingernails pulled out, only with more laughing. When I’d finished I felt like I had been beaten around the head, but with love. Because of this I’m putting it ahead of Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, which is also very good and possibly funnier.

The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger): This one is a rough ride, too. Some of it is astonishingly beautiful, some is unbearably tragic. I thought it dragged a little in the middle, but still loved it.

Astonishing X-Men (Joss Whedon): I’ve been reading some comics lately, and this one is gorgeous. Book 3 (“Torn”) is especially juicy. Joss Whedon is, of course, one of the greatest human beings to ever walk the Earth, and he’s in great form here. I obsessively read X-Men comics in high school and college, and it’s very cool to return to these characters and see them handled so well.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon): I have never heard anyone say anything bad about this book, ever. So there’s no need for me to praise it. I’ll just say: they’re right.

The Men Who Stare At Goats (Jon Ronson) [non-fiction]: This book started out as a light, ridiculous, funny read, then turned dark and disturbing. I love that.

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse (Robert Rankin): It’s funny and it’s clever, but more than that it has a surprising and truly wonderful dynamic between the two main characters. Warm, snuggly, and gooey (in a good way).

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell (Susanna Clarke): I don’t usually read the backs of books until I’ve finished them, but I snuck a look at this one early and discovered that it was Time Magazine’s Book of the Year (2004). I wish I hadn’t done that, because from that point onward all I could think was, “Well, it’s good, but is it Book of the Year good?” So try not to do that. It is an absorbing read: simultaneously rich and dry.

Watching Racehorses: A Guide to Betting on Behaviour (Geoffrey Hutson) [non-fiction]: I don’t care about racehorses. I have no interest in betting on them. I only read this book because Geoff is a neighbor. But it was genuinely fascinating, very funny, and worth it for the section on clitoral winking alone. (I know. Intriguing.)

Haunted (Chuck Palahniuk): This is a bunch of short stories with a novel wrapped around it. As with any short story collection, the quality varies, but some of the ones in here scared the absolute crap out of me. So even though I wouldn’t rate this as Chuck’s best, it was a good read. Incidentally, I read a review of this in The Washington Post that was more like a drive-by shooting, with several bullets aimed below the belt, and noticed that Amazon.com chose that one, that one, to put on their site. It was nice to see that that doesn’t just happen to me.

The Beach (Alex Garland): Yeah, it’s already on my old list. But I re-read it, and ohhh, it’s so good.

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