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Decode Those Books

By Annalee Newitz

EVER SINCE the Webbys, I've been exhausted by work and life. One of the dotcom roommates in my geek group house is moving out very slowly. Ed, a dot-net who was in Japan for a while, has a giant storage unit sitting on the street outside our house, waiting to be emptied into the room Melissa was subletting.

Meanwhile, Melissa is now a more permanent dotcom roomie, and a non-com person is crashing on our floor because without a dot-salary, he's homeless. Needless to say, my ritual of watching digital cable in the living room has been severely curtailed by all the boxes and bodies.

So instead of driving my roommates insane by watching re-runs of the Knife Collectors Show, random crime documentaries and strangely compelling early-'80s sitcoms, I'm reading. It all started when a kind soul in Berkeley randomly sent me a copy of Stephen Donaldson's moral fantasy story collection Reave the Just.

I'd been deep in the middle of Terminator's truck-stop whore romance novel Sarah, but the Donaldson book made me remember that SF and just plain S would be nice for a change. So I combed the bookstores, looking for recent arrivals that might fit the bill.

What I found will probably make me a devotee of the Knife Collectors Show forever: with a few entertaining exceptions, the new round of techno-whatever books out there is just a bunch of e-crap.

Possibly the worst book I've ever laid eyes on is Mikki Halpin's the geek handbook (a cutesy lower-case title, how nice). What is truly monstrous about this book is how much it will remind careful readers of those marriage manuals that women were given back before the 1960s. The whole point of the geek handbook is to help you, the reader, care for "your" geek, who is presumably--given the possessive article--your partner, lover or significant other.

Although Halpin is careful to use male and female pronouns in reference to "your" geek, she nevertheless manages to convey that "your" role in the geek's life is that of caretaker, nurse and confessor. Anytime a book advises you--even in partial jest--to make sure you keep someone else's office space tidy, you know there's something deeply wrong. It's apparently also "your" job to make sure "your" geek is healthy and happy. Why? Well, the alleged reason is just to be "more understanding."

But the geek handbook isn't about sympathy; it's about playing the role of househusband or wife to someone who takes care of nothing but their work. So the secret coded message is: "your" geek is making so much money to support you that Halpin has written a book about how "your" job is to take care of this money-making machine. Sure, she doesn't say this outright. You have to read between the lines.

A perfect antidote to all this bullshit is R.U. Sirius' little red book from Feral House called The Revolution (R): Quotations from Revolution Party Chairman R.U. Sirius. With surrealistic panache, Sirius is up to his usual tricksterism, dashing our hopes that post-high-tech reality will ever be anything but a massively weird corporate power trip. Sirius, editor and visionary at digital counter-culture magazines Mondo 2000 and GettingIt.com, is currently running for president.

Regarding the "lameside" of cyber-politics, Sirius writes, "You find it all over Wired--this mix of chaos theory and biological modeling that is somehow interpreted as scientific proof of the need to devolve and decentralize the social welfare state while also deregulating and empowering the powerful, autocratic, multinational corporations." You go, R.U.! The Revolution (R) is full of juicy, smart aphorisms a la Guy DeBord that excoriate right-wing, money-mad cyberweenies and promote the liberatory imaginations of psychenauts.

Yet another piece of junk that flew across my desk and made my eyes roll was the hideously named and jingoistic eBoys: The True Story of the Six Tall Men who Backed eBay, Webvan, and other Billion-Dollar Startups. Our biz writer-author Randall E. Stross describes in excruciating detail what it's like to be a Big White Guy with Cash in Silicon Valley. Yes, our heroes are all over six feet tall, a Brave New World sort of detail that makes this toadying account of these eBoys' capital-engorged lives even more excruciating.

So reading didn't chill me out much. Maybe I should be sparking a bowl with R.U. and talking 'bout a revolution.

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who is smitten by people who think about books all the time.

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From the May 25-31, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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